Virtual Forum Theater: Creating and sharing drama to resolve conflicts
Alice Cristina Mello Cavallo, Tufts University, United States
Tufts University . Awarded
Virtual Forum Theater (VFT) is a computer-based learning experience aimed at helping youth learn to cope with oppressive personal and social situations. VFT has three parts: toolset, process, and performance. The VFT toolset is a multimedia tool for creation of dramatic plays using audio, and images that enables participatory and collaborative digital playmaking through the Internet. The VFT process is the collaborative process of creating a digital play, and includes dramatic exercises involving group bonding, social awareness, and improvisational skills. A VFT performance refers to the activity of watching and responding to a previously created VFT play, including proposing and creating alternative solutions.
VFT takes its inspiration partly from Brecht's Epic Theater (1964), Boal's Theater of the Oppressed (1983) (TO) and Forum Theater (FT). Like FT, VFT involves a "rehearsal for change" in which participants try different ways to deal with oppressive situations. Because the target audience was youth and not adult, VFT is viewed as a constructionist (Papert, 1980) educational tool as well as a dramatic tool. Boal's "joker" - who in FT poses questions to the audience and seeks alternatives - is replaced by "intervention frames" (also called a "virtual joker") in which the virtual play stops and viewers are asked to explore alternative solutions. Boal's "spect-actors" - who take the stage to enact different solutions - are replaced by the activity of creating an alternative ending for a virtual play. I developed, evaluated, and refined VFT (Java based) via three experiments in Design-Based Research (DBR). Three groups of underserved children and youth - one in Somerville-Ma-USA and the others in Salvador-Bahia-Brazil - participated in multiple-week studies. Participants engaged well with VFT, learned about technology and artistic expression, and exhibited improved social awareness and argumentation abilities after the study. Participants initially viewed injustice and oppression as personal rather than political or ideological, but grew to understand social oppression during the studies. The human facilitator played a crucial role in the development of participants' understanding and argumentation skills, by questioning and challenging the participants' initial solutions to each problem. VFT supports "rehearsal for change" and was a positive experience for all participants.
Cavallo, A.C.M. Virtual Forum Theater: Creating and sharing drama to resolve conflicts. Ph.D. thesis, Tufts University.
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