Forum Theatre methodology, originally developed by Augusto Boal in his seminal work, 'Theatre of the Oppressed,' drew on ideas laid down by Paolo Freire‘s revolutionary work 'Pedagogy of the Oppressed,' the key principle of which is to treat the learner as a co-creator of knowledge, rather than a vessel waiting to be filled with knowledge from a so-called expert, authority or pedagogue. (Freire 1972: 45) Freire wanted to break the ‘vertical’ patterns of education and replace it with one in which ‘the teacher is no longer merely the one who teaches, but one who is himself taught in dialogue with the students, who in their turn while being taught also teach.’ (Freire 1972: 53) He goes on to say, ‘ In order for this struggle to have meaning, the oppressed must not, in seeking to regain their humanity, become in turn oppressors of the oppressors, but rather restorers of the humanity of both.’ (Freire 1972: 21) In other words, a balance must be achieved between the protagonists in the situation in order to ‘liberate themselves and their oppressors’. (Freire 1972: 21)
Aid initiatives in Malawi need to be responsive to the country’s particular cultural character and history. They need to use innovative, participative and sustainable education and development techniques, which are adaptable and culturally sensitive. As Tim Prentki notes in his article, ‘Save the Children? – Change the World’ (Prentki 2003), a ‘paradigm shift’ has taken place in the methods of delivery of Theatre for Development. He says that TfD has ‘move(d) beyond the message-based propaganda tool’ and the communication of ‘messages from the centre’ that re-enforced colonial attitudes to Development that ‘highlights participation as the key to the successful implementation of projects’ (Prentki 2003: 40). Prentki continues, ‘Picking up on the notions of active learning, development agencies perceived that people were learning better by doing than they had been by listening’ (Prentki 2003:40).
Participation can develop ways of changing behaviour in order to improve situations. As Freire says, the participants do ‘know things’ about their own situation and begin to ‘believe in themselves’ through their active participation (Freire 1972: 39–40). By generating these ideas for themselves, participants can have an experience of being in control of their circumstances and of having the means to make positive changes. They begin to develop a sense of collective responsibility, and to learn that they don‘t need wait for others to help, but can work together to build a better community. Through Touch-Tag Theatre, a ‘deeper consciousness’ can be developed and participants’ situations are capable of ‘transformation’ in which ‘resignation gives way to the drive for transformation and inquiry, over which men feel themselves in control’ (Freire 1972: 58).