LegiLab: Experiments in Legislative Theatre

A chance Dream A big possibility Optimism An experiment Dialogue, activism Confrontation Participatory Democracy Proposing laws through theatre Strategic planning….and…and open to changing
your strategic plan HISTORY OF LEGISLATIVE THEATRE Legislative Theatre was developed by Brazilian
theatre director Augusto Boal. It is one of the ‘branches’ of the Theatre
of the Oppressed, an umbrella term for all of the techniques of this type of theatre
developed over 40 years. Influenced by radical educationalist Paulo
Freire, Boal developed the Theatre of the Oppressed to use theatre as collaborative,
educational and political process. Unlike traditional theatre, the Theatre of
the Oppressed enables the audience to engage with the theatrical action and use theatre
as a rehearsal for reality. Legislative Theatre builds on the technique
of Forum Theatre in which an audience can stop the play, enter the stage space and change
the direction of the play in order to try to learn more about and overcome a certain
oppression. Boal developed the technique of Legislative
Theatre whilst he was Vereador (city councillor) for Rio de Janeiro from 1993 to 1997. The project involved working with many of
the diverse and often under-represented communities in the city to use theatre to propose and
vote on new laws which Boal would then bring to the City Chamber. Overall 13 new laws were passed using this
technique. This included a law that all municipal hospitals
must have doctors specialising in geriatric diseases and problems. A more recent example is, on the 13th December
2017 in Austria, a law was passed about the participation of disabled people in society
which used a Legislative Theatre method. And I thought, Oh Wow! If you can change a law during the theatre
process this can be something amazing, this can be something that normally people think
they cannot do, that it’s not possible , Like only certain people are eligible for doing,
for changing the law. That’s when we, Barbara and I, my co-worker, co-joker, were thinking, I mean this topic,
of exploitation in the working place and precarious work in general, which is a big issue in Slovenia,
is a legislative theatre topic, so why not do, try, and influence also the legislative
process, on this particular topic, with theatre? So, I guess motivation is also this, that this topic is connected to all of us that
are doing the performance in legislative theatre project in Slovenia, because all of us are
precarious workers. So it was also like this combination of personal
and political. We worked for I would say, like for half a year on the topic itself, about precarious
work and what was interesting is that we realised, like after reading different articles, discussing
the problem, that all participants found themselves as precarious workers but in the past. They all gave examples from the student time,
so when they were students they were precarious workers. But they couldn’t or didn’t want to connect
their lives now, as a precarious worker. So we were really struggling, with Metka,
how to open their eyes, they are oppressed here and now, it was not 5 years ago, but
it is here and now. And we really tried different approaches and
at the end, when they realised that ‘oh shit, I’m also a precarious worker, here now, and
my workers rights are
not respected’. It was like, I would say, a really big ‘AHA’
moment for the group and each individual in the group. And then we could actually start the process of building up the performance. The current project is about the management of a river in the extreme north of Italy, in a region close to Austria. This river is very long, more or less 100km long. And this river has different stakeholders that use the river in different ways. So, the problem, because we were asked to intervene, and make legislative theatre process, was how to create the regulation that doesn’t exist at the moment, in order to preserve the river as much as possible and to make a balance between the different needs of 4 or 5 groups of stakeholders. So we started but, the project was approved, there was a call, a regional call, and the administration of the region who applied for the call, won with this project. But then there were some bureaucratic difficulties, one was about Brussels, because the regulation from Brussels, for funding, was in a way, and they did the code in another way, so there was a lot of these problems. In some exercises we manipulate the body of another person to create some images and that’s helpful because we use the other body and also the game gives us more skills about the contact, the relationship, that usually we don’t use in daily life. For example we don’t touch people every day, so it is very important to create a new connection and also to create a different kind of image that is not just in our mind and in our words, but it is also in our body, our bodies. So it is very important, especially for the legislative theatre, because we can in some way show a different proposal of law, concretely with the body of the person. Preparing this performance with deaf youth, we hope to raise awareness, to make them feel that they are visible, that people who are not deaf are interested in their problems and their ordinary lives. That they want to get to know them and finally that they want to support them. So, we decided that we would contact a few schools and one of them responded that they are interested because they are interested very much in
theater and that they would love to work with us So first what we did we, we went to
the school presented our idea, we explained what the Forum and Legislative Theatre
is and they were pretty excited to join the project, so this is how we met. What
was very surprising was that they were absolutely shocked and asking us many
times like why in fact hearing people would be interested to
spend their time fighting for the change of education system of deaf youth. For
us it was it was obvious but for them it was shocking somehow. We organized
an evening, open evening of storytelling and we invited both sign language
speakers and people who do not use sign language and we spent one evening
listening and telling the stories of education of deaf kids and youth. And then week by week we’ve been meeting
to create the performance. So we spent a lot of time on storytelling playing
games and debating around deaf education. At the very beginning, I wanted to be a policewoman. But my father told me, that because of my disability, it’s impossible. So I gave up this dream. When I was young, when I was going to school, my father came every Friday and took me to his work. I helped my father there. He worked on the construction site. He had a good job as an architect. I felt that maybe I will become a construction worker. But my father said that for a disabled woman it’s not appropriate. A woman cant work there because you have to lift heavy stuff. So I thought I will become an architect. I always liked to draw houses when I was little. And now I started drawing again. And I told my father: I want to be an architect in the future. And he said: That’s perfect! Our experience of Legislative Theater so
far is: Frustrating, Resilience, Powerful Hope, Exciting, Difficult, Potential,
Questioning roles and rules, Educational Change, Rare, Disregarded, Unknown, Power, Strategic, Resistance, Transformative! And we’ve decided that we want to look at
housing, well they’ve decided they want to look
at housing and the state housing and, most importantly, how precarious housing
is, for lots of people. So, of course it’s very very precarious for
people that have had addiction problems which most of them have had and are
coming out of prison. But even so there’s a precariousness in housing all the way
up to people that have a mortgage and I have their own home because they’re
often one or two payments away from that home being repossessed by a bank. So it
seems silly to have this kind of real uncertainty around housing and there’s
lots of issues and campaigns around it around rent controls, around the council,
more council housing being needed, because councils use Bed & Breakfasts
and they use all these dodgy landlords that charge them lots of money and have
really substandard accommodation. So, we’ve been doing some work with that
group, making images about the housing crisis, most importantly: starting
to make links with activists and starting to make links with politicians. And then from there the whole process is there is a method that we follow, which includes the games that we play that are much more than games, much more than just warming up, these are games that bring people, you know, out of themselves, give them confidence to discuss and and act and be
part of something that’s quite different. So then we carry on from there but we
don’t normally use a script, you know what it builds up over time just by
doing different games or different pieces of a story that we want to build
and most of this comes from the people that were actually doing the piece of
theater with. So everybody has an input and everybody can become involved and
then we run it through and then we get feedback from each other, so it could be
the other groups to get feedback from, it could be, you know, once we’ve done
a performance, we get feedback from that performance and then we use that to
improve on what we’re doing. So it can be a rather long process at times. but it’s
very much worth it. So show me those three images again. Show me those three images again,
that you’re in. And bring them to life. Three… two… one. Go! Good, thank you! Okay, so this
is our house image. We’re going to move from house into home over 10 seconds. One… And freeze.. To me.. I just love playing games! Like sometimes I could
just play games for a whole session because they take you somewhere
different and very unexpected things can come out of games. And the laughter as well! People
can sometimes come in very tense and anxious, either about being in the group
or because they’re bringing something with them. They’ve had a
really difficult day or they’re going through something very difficult. And the
games can just leave all that at the door, so after playing a few games
everybody’s falling about laughing and and then we get into, maybe some of the
more serious issues. But again, we can just fire in a game and it lightens
everything up so… they’re so important to the process! How does a Legislative
Theater session work? A piece of Forum Theatre is presented to an audience.
However, beforehand, the Joker, which is the name given to the facilitator in the
Theatre of the Oppressed, asks the audience: If you had the power to make a
law, then what would it be? During the Forum Theatre session and audience
interventions in the play, the audience are asked to write down any ideas for
new laws, that they think would help to overcome the oppression shown on stage. These are collected up and passed to the Metabolic Cell. The Metabolic Cell sit at
a table near the stage. It should consist of at least three people: 1: an activist,
who is involved with the issue being presented in the play, 2: a lawmaker, who
understands how to write legislation and 3: a lawyer with experience in
the issue being presented. During the play and afterwards it is the
duty of the Metabolic Cell to look at the proposals from the audience and to
write down, firstly: any laws that have been suggested, that are existing laws
and secondly: three or four changes to existing laws or new laws, that have come
from audience proposals. After the play the Metabolic Cell come on to the stage,
introduce themselves and firstly present any laws, that have been suggested that
our existing laws and secondly, they propose three or four changes to laws or new laws.
Each proposal is debated by the audience and then voted on using colored cards:
green to agree, red to disagree and yellow for undecided. A majority of green
cards means that the law has been voted through by the audience. It is important
to note that this is a pre-law making process. It is now important to find a
way to bring these laws to a legislative body in order to make them a reality, but
this is the big question for those undertaking a Legislative Theatre
project. By theory there should be three members
of the Metabolic Cell. We have two. Sometimes both of them cannot make it, so
sometimes even we have only one person for the MC. But this is the reality, this is what we are working with. We don’t live in a perfect world. Okay, so when I got to know
Legislative Theater, I was really thinking that we are going to write laws.
But then meeting after meeting, when we are when we were tackling
different topics, we were realizing: Wow, actually this law already exists,
this one also, but they are not present the are
hidden or they are just like dead laws. Nobody is really taking them
seriously, and this is for me the biggest surprise. That actually
system may be kind of ready sometimes, but simply, there is not enough
good will? We did a Legislative Theater project before called “Resilience”, which was a really really good project. But we were maybe a bit naive when we
were doing it, and we invited politicians and decision-makers to come
to the performances. And they came! But then they went away afterwards. And we
asked for some meetings with them and they kind of enjoyed it, but said they
didn’t really know how to take it anywhere. And I think we realized the big issue
was we hadn’t got them involved at the very beginning of the process. We’d
waited too long in the process to do that. So this time we said: Right, what we need to do is three things: we need to be making contact with
activists in the area, which we’ve started to do, politicians or people that actually,
truly want to change this, you know, and the third thing was we wanted to make
more connections with the wider Scottish theatre community, because we thought that there are probably more skills out there, more ways that
we could use to get this across. So, we’ve started doing all of these three things
with our participants, and they’ve really enjoyed it. I think our our big problem,
or our big question is, we’re gonna have to put a lot of time and energy into this,
lots of time ,lots of things that aren’t theatre we’re gonna have to do. Lots of
meetings, we’re gonna have to play the political game a little bit. If we want
to be in there, we can’t just be in our own bubble. If we’re going to engage with
politicians and legislators and it’s okay to do that, but actually how
much time and effort and energy is that going to take? And could that time and
effort energy be used better elsewhere? My advice would be to think of it in a
more broad terms and really try and think about your own context that you’re
working in. So don’t try and copy what Boal did in Rio, because we’re never going
to do that. It’s very very difficult to do that. But Legislative Theater, I think,
can mean lots of things. It doesn’t even have to have that that form of the
Metabolic Cell, of the voting, you know. It doesn’t have to have that. And what
Legislative Theatre is to me is a way of using form theatre and the other
techniques in the Theatre of the Oppressed and beyond, to think about how
people can engage with the legislative process, and that could be
about making new laws, but that could also be about learning about what
existing laws happen and also helping to shape and change those or how they might
be used or how not people to not be used. So, I think for me it feels very
daunting to go: Right, we’re going to change laws using a small piece of theatre. Yeah, because one is, well you’re gonna
have to reach a lot of people to be able to do that, and two: you’re going to have
to be accepted by whatever political the legislative body you want to change
those laws. But I think if we think about Legislative Theatre in a more broad
sense of actually finding a way in which
we’re connecting people to the decisions and the laws and the
legislation and policy that affect their lives, and how they can have some effects
on that or use that, I think, you know, that that’s a good starting point. It
doesn’t feel quite so daunting as a process. The best part for Legislative Theatre is that you get to know a world that is not usually your own, and
that you’ll have this entrance to the life of very beautiful and interesting
people telling their stories. The stories that you would never have possibility to
hear and understand without spending hours playing, talking, debating,
discussing, well, and just being together. The last thing I want to ask you is could you show me with your body language an image of Legislative Theatre or a gesture, or, with your body language, what it means to you. Yes, cause it comes from here, for me personally, Legislative Theatre is the way that I want to go forward. Didn’t find out about it until later on in life and now it’s here and it’s going to be here for a long time.

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