Rehearsal for revolution: How theatre can improve disability healthcare
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Rebus' participatory theatre is a call to activism and disability justice.
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Rehearsal for revolution: How theatre can improve disability healthcare

by Daniel Sleiman See Profile
Canberra ACT, Australia
16th Apr 2019
Rehearsal for revolution: How theatre can improve disability healthcare

The arts have long been a vehicle for social change. Whether through music, literature or painting, artists have historically positioned their work as a means to challenge social norms and entertain audiences. Canberra’s Rebus Theatre is using theatre practice to bring about community change within the disability sector.

Rebus uses a form of participatory theatre known as Forum. According to Robin Davidson, creative director at Rebus, the origins of Forum date back to the late 1960’s and early 1970’s when it was pioneered by Augusto Boal in Brazil.

“Our version of Forum theatre is that we create a show about 12 minutes long, with a cast of people who live with disabilities. The show is based on their stories as well as from consultations about the problems people with disabilities have accessing health services”, he says.

Within this 12-minute performance the actors behave abominably to each other and terrible things unfold in front of an unsuspecting audience. The show is run twice, but in the second rendition the audience can participate and put an end to the problematic behaviour they are witnessing.

“Some of us ‘make’ theatre- all of us ‘are’ theatre.”

Augusto Boal

Through this modified behaviour a dialogue begins about how to provide better healthcare for people living with a disability. At its core, Forum empowers everyday people to get involved in a situation that is unacceptable, immoral or untenable. Audience members are deliberately made to feel uncomfortable, challenged and unable to tolerate what they are seeing. In this way, they are galvanised into action.

According to Robin Davidson, this active participation is instrumental.

“It’s very easy to have disconnected, disembodied intellectual discussions about all kinds of issues. The moment you act out a situation everyone is suddenly emotionally engaged. It’s very easy for people to play the arm chair expert, but it is a very different thing to get up to act and interact with someone who is in distress. Suddenly there is a real emotional impact, and it’s a way to get into a very different kind of conversation very quickly.”

Photo credit: Rebus.
Photo credit: Rebus.

Forum theatre developed in a historical context where high-stakes life and death situations were the norm. Brazilians were suffering malnutrition under an authoritarian military dictatorship in Brazil. Augusto Boal, who founded Forum theatre, once wrote “Forum theatre is a reflection on reality and a rehearsal for future action.” In Forum’s early iterations he noted that it “helped the citizen to develop their taste for political discussion and their desire to develop their own artistic abilities.” Forum theatre has at its roots a call to activism, protest and a vigorous rethinking of the status quo.

“Boal referred to it as ‘rehearsal for revolution’ so it is actually rehearsing what we can do in real life,” Davidson points out.

Using Forum, Rebus theatre has recently developed a program called Access All Areas which is funded under the National Disability Insurance Scheme. Access All Areas examines three different challenges faced by people living with a disability: accessing heath services, accessing justice and accessing transport.

Davidson says that while the NDIS is designed to give people with disabilities access to financial resources to participate in society, there nonetheless remain additional barriers which restrict their participation. Through funding programs such as Access All Areas, these barriers can be addressed more comprehensively with a particular focus on the attitudes and systems at play in wider society.

Rebus focuses on inclusivity where it matters most by fostering leadership from people living with disabilities themselves. Davidson recognises that every person’s disability is unique and that mainstreams ideas around disability remain out of touch.

Photo credit: Rebus.
Photo credit: Rebus.

“Disability is a big word that captures many different kinds of human experiences. People with different kinds of disability face different kinds of issues. Having a disability doesn’t make you an expert on someone else’s disability, everyone’s story is unique.”

It is those stories that Rebus theatre is bringing to life and using to educate audiences.

“As a society we are enriched by the variety of stories we hear and the variety of perspectives that we bring to any question. People with different disabilities have perspectives that are valuable for everyone.”

Find out more about Rebus Theatre.

Rebus Theatre
Daniel Sleiman

About Daniel Sleiman

Daniel is a freelance writer and content producer who is passionate about giving a voice to the voiceless and those in our society who have been marginalised. He has a strong interest in social justice and loves to tell stories. For Daniel, stories can be powerful, hard-hitting, and a call for change.

More from Daniel Sleiman

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Health Care, Power & Policy
Canberra ACT, Australia
16th April 2019

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