Rehearsal for Life: Community Engagement as a tool for change

November 21, 2018

“Theatre is a form of knowledge; it should and can also be a means of transforming society. Theatre can help us build our future,

rather than just waiting for it”

– Augusto Boal




For Edy, Dar, Fen, and Gully in part 2 of This Sinking Island, it is perhaps already too late to build a future; their predecessors waited too long to address climate change. In reality, we are their predecessors and still have the ability to take action against climate change. However, it’s hard to grasp how we as individuals can make a dent in such a grand, global issue.


How can one production, one post-show workshop, or even one less plastic bag used in rehearsal, be a “means of transforming society?”


Throughout the rehearsal process for This Sinking Island, the cast and creative team did our best to be as eco-friendly as possible. I, however, was always the one bringing in plastic bags, cups, straws, and snack packaging to rehearsal. Melissa, our director, would tease me for my plastic and politely berate me for not having my own reusable bag or mug. I was with her! I agreed with her! I even made fun of myself! Yet, I did nothing to actually change. Why? Well, I was hungry and tired, so I justified my plastic with my need for Dunkin Donuts to help me make it through rehearsal. I didn’t bother finding alternatives because my immediate needs took precedence over worrying about my future grandchildren’s needs. In short, I didn’t care all that much. 


Then, I would hear the voices of real-life climate change refugees brought to life as the rehearsal went on. I would hear the fear, the panic, and the despair in their words as I sipped from my plastic straw. Suddenly, guilt would punch me in the gut, and suddenly, I would recognize my own hypocrisy. I would think to myself “tomorrow will be different because tomorrow I will refuse the plastic bag!” However, tomorrow would come and then the awkwardness of refusing the cashier would result in yet another plastic bag. I found myself in a plastic guilt cycle that I felt foolishly incapable of breaking.


I needed a rehearsal for life.


In a conversation about how to make our community engagement as activated as possible, I suggested holding a Forum Theatre post-show workshop, a “rehearsal for life,” as it is often called. Forum Theatre is a technique from Augusto Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed. In Forum Theatre, an issue is presented in an improvised scene, and then audience members become participants in the onstage action to help find a different, or better, solution to the presented issue. The idea is to explore action steps with audience members that will hopefully inspire action in their real lives.  


Tiffany speaking with an audience member. 


When asked about situations in their daily lives where single use plastic presented a problem, our audience suggested two scenes: a bakery giving out plastic straws and a grocery store giving out plastic bags. To my surprise, it was our youngest audience members who were the most receptive to our activity. They made it seem so easy and so obvious that the right action was to simply refuse the plastic straw or bring one’s own reusable bag. Perhaps my favorite moment from the workshop was when a little girl jumped onstage with her stuffed animal to suggest a big cardboard box hold her groceries instead of a bag. Another little boy bravely played the cashier who loaded her groceries into the box without complaint. It was clear that these young people were not affected by the social anxiety I feel when refusing single-use plastic or bringing in an alternative solution; they knew it was the right thing to do, and so they did it fearlessly. Clearly, I had a lesson to learn from these young people, and perhaps some of you reading this can relate too.


One person’s singular action may not be enough to “transform society,” but the ripple effect caused by that one person can become a wave of many.


If more of us were as brave in real life as those young children were in our Forum Theatre activity, then eventually refusing plastic wouldn’t stir social anxiety but social acceptance instead. By refusing the plastic bag, plastic straw, or plastic cup, we are opening the door for other people to do the same. Perhaps the person in line behind you will do the same action or perhaps the cashier will think twice before assuming everyone needs a bag? Therefore, creating a production about climate change, conducting one Forum Theatre workshop, and refusing even one plastic bag, can transform society by building an awareness of climate change that plants a seed for others to make eco-friendly choices as well.



I am still not perfect. I don’t refuse the plastic bag everytime I should nor do I meal plan on a daily basis to prevent myself from buying Dunkin Donuts, but now that I have worked on this show and seen those fearless kids, I have more empathy, knowledge, and a “rehearsal for life” to draw upon for that extra push. I hope we can all work together to turn that “extra push” into daily action so we can “build our future, rather than just waiting for it.”




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This Sinking Island was recently featured on "Will New York Sink Into The Sea? A Play Imagines Its Future" by Greta Moran.



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