A Brief Guide to Forum Theatre

A guide to learning Using Forum Theatre written by Derek C Stewart

Forum Theatre is a particular form of drama in which participants can choose to observe or to take part. It allows us to explore various human scenarios, to try out different resolutions and enquiries in the safety of a fiction.

This enables participants to make sense of the world, the decisions people make, their feelings and the possible consequences on themselves and others.

The situations unfold in front of us ‘as if’ they are happening at that moment in time, which provides us with a similar context to real life. Yet at the same time we are in the make believe. We are not ‘pretending’ but taking part in real time.

The structure is best set around the learning question and objectives. It is therefore much less onerous than a formal scripted drama.

Forum theatre allows people who take part to remain as themselves but in a different fictional setting e.g. taking on the role of reearchers, newspaper reporters, travellers, etc. They are then enquiring about an issue or getting ready to explore a particular point in time.

There are few right or wrong answers in Forum Theatre. You can run and rerun the same scene over in different ways, investigate various attitudes and responses, move forward and back in time from different perspectives. It is possible to review and reflect on the learning.

Participants are safe because they control all aspects of their involvement through a group agreement:

You should always feel safe
Nobody will ask you to do anything you don't want to do
You are in control and can stop the action at any point
All we will be offering is a 'starting moment'
            There are no 'right' or 'wrong' answers as such
            All that is needed is agreement to enquire and join in as appropriate

It will be tiring and challenging. We are exploring attitudes and emotions, which normally are areas that are not covered.

Ownership will change during any session. It is not the ‘facilitator’s drama’.
When planning a beginning consider the following:

  • Figures in a landscape – how are people standing, sitting in relationship to each other
  • Silence/Sound; Stillness/Movement; Darkness/Light
  • Signs and symbols – items which might help make meaning
Person in Role
Most often referred to as teacher-in-role in books about using drama as a learning medium. Person-in-role is where the person leading the session will adopt an attitude to introduce a topic and extend the learning opportunities for the participants. 
It is this technique that we will use to help those taking on the roles of patient/carer and/or healthcare professional to help separate their own direct personal experiences from that of the roles they will be assuming – e.g. 'I will be (name for role) and we will be discussing a different condition from my own.' 

It is about adopting a role for learning purposes not about becoming someone else or acting out a character. 

It is, simply, about being you - in a different circumstance and setting – applying a different attitude. This allows us to draw from and upon personal experience whilst creating a safe distance.  

The person-in-role has the additional opportunity to help the learner focus on particular issues or concerns. Whilst in-role you can question, enquire, seek clarity or further information, address issues and even challenge.

It is helpful to build belief in our story by:

  • Agreeing a contract – right to say no, to watch, no ‘right’ answer
  • Setting a context - Hospital setting, discussion following diagnosis
  • Deciding who is present - patient, patient and carer with family  
  • Selecting at attitude – patient feeling…lost, confused, worried
  • Identifying an issue – information about research, signing consent
  • Agreeing signals and symbols for in role and out of role  
  • Agree 'time-out' and ‘freeze’ if necessary
It is also possible to get some personal reflection either in or out of role that can add to the potential learning in any workshop.

Furthermore, a prop or the empty chair where the role was sitting can be a powerful reminder of the discussion that took place.


There are a number of conventions most often seen in the theatre or in cinema that you might like to use. These include:

Narration – The telling of a story or explaining circumstances. The facilitator become storyteller and can add a powerful link between scenes and comment on moments

Overheard Conversations – Participants play out a conversation that is often private so that we get a glimpse of some of the thinking behind a particular moment.

Overlay - Which can be mixed to provide a dissonance to what is being seen: e.g. A spokesperson saying that all patients know where they are going contrasted with someone who is lost; a Trust report contrasted with a different personal account.

Reportage – Used as if reporting for a television / radio news broadcast

Sound Collage – The use perhaps of repeated phrases and words which might be interpreted by a mimed scene

Still Image or tableaux – As if a picture had been taken at a particular moment in time which is then interpreted by others or the group members

Thought Tracking – Where we give or hear the thoughts of a person-in-role

Captions – We may choose to freeze particular moment in time and ask participants to think of the Newspaper headline. Different papers can provide interesting interpretations.


Freeze – Anyone being able to stop or halt the action at any point

Hot Seating – Where one person takes on a specific role and is questioned by the group

Building Belief – A number of strategies employed to help participants believe the work – eg: Describing the room where the meeting takes place, Giving the persons-in-role a background (a carer whose partner died a few months ago from cancer), Giving the group a role as maybe historians from the future looking at the NHS

Role on the Wall – Outline figures are drawn on to flipchart paper where people can write, draw and interpret how someone might be feeling or behaving

Seconds in the corner – Where participants takes the side of one person or another and act as seconds in a wresting/boxing match to provide advice and suggestions as to what they might say next.

Teacher-in-Role – This is about adopting an attitude rather than taking on a character.  Through Role we can question, illuminate and challenge perceptions. High, medium and low rankings can alter the way in which engagement is developed.

Rewind and Replay – This is about moving forward and backwards in time to look again with different things being said or done.

Context, Issues and Feelings

The three elements of context, issues and feelings can offer numerous means of deepening the engagement in the process.


You might want to use a object to help the person mark clearly when they in role and out of role. These symbolic objects will build belief in the context:

  • Appointment Letter or card
  • Medical record
  • Books and Web pages on the patient condition
  • Cards - Get Well & Thinking of You
  • Diary
  • A doll
  • Holiday brochure


You might identify certain issues to help provide focus for

…the person-in-role as patient:
  • Doesn’t want partner to know
  • Haven’t told workplace
  • Looked up something on internet
  • I’m worried that it might be worse
  • It is Fate

…the healthcare professional
  • meeting targets
  • limited resource to do the research work
  • concerned about NHS


You can encourage the people in role to adopt a particular attitude especially at the beginning of the session. These might be:

  • Fear
  • Confusion
  • Concern
  • Worry
  • Loss

Additional notes for reference

We may want to think about where the moment happens and use one of these points

Points on patient pathway

  • Genetic disposition
  • Behaviours – eg: smoking
  • Presentation
  • Referral
  • Diagnosis and MDT
  • Treatment and follow-up
  • Research opportunities
  • Rehabilitation and cure
  • Palliative Care
  • End of Life
  • Death
  • Bereavement

But, this is also a personal journey….

  • Family history
  • Information
  • Access
  • Waiting and worrying
  • Telling family and friends
  • Finances
  • Work

Further Recommended Reading:

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