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Participatory Theater Sets the Stage for Non-Violent Solutions in Guinea & Beyond

2012 July 20

By: Rahel Baumgartner, SFCG Guinea International Intern, in collaboration with Christopher White, SFCG Communications Consultant

Guinea is a very young democracy – if it is one at all. The first democratic elections took place in late 2010. A year and a half later, people are still waiting to elect their representatives for the National Parliament. The political process behind the overdue legislative elections is at a stand-still. Dialogue at the institutional level is paralyzed and people are fed up. If that weren’t enough, there are also many other latent conflicts simmering in Guinea.

SFCG’s Talking Drum Studio is working to tackle these underlying conflicts  through the novel use of participatory theater. When performing, our staff actors can sense that people in Guinea are not used to this type of interaction. People are not accustomed to participating in decision-making, to raising their voices. For decades they were denied the opportunity to do so. More specifically, people are not used to dialogue. Talking is one thing, but approaching your perceived enemy  in an effort to find common ground is another.

In participatory theater, the same conflict can be resolved many different ways, depending on audience involvement. Each path leads to different outcomes for the characters involved.

However, theater is a vivid and insistent way to gain exposure to the  new. Participatory theater isn’t just about learning. It’s entertaining too; a story with the same beginning can have many different endings. During the performances people get the chance to give their opinions, talk about the conflicts in their communities, as well as propose solutions – and they welcome this opportunity with open arms. We might not be able to bring about the organization of elections, but each day, SFCG contributes a little bit to the consolidation of peace in Guinea.

Even when the audience just watches, they are eager to discuss possible solutions after sharing in the excitement of the performance.

Participatory theater is one of the more unique tools in our toolbox and we know it has the power to help people discover creative ways of transforming the conflicts in which they are enmeshed. Take a look at some stories detailing how this tool is both contributing to the peaceful transformation of conflict and also the economic development of Rwanda.

Want to see more about how this tool works? You should definitely check out this short video featuring Lena Slachmuijlder, our Chief Programming Officer, as she discusses how the process works and what sort of positive surprises participatory theater has brought about in the DRC.

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