Cardboard Citizens and the potential of forum theatre
Cardboard Citizens is an established theatre group, comprised of members who have all experienced homelessness but who are now working as professional actors. With social issues at the heart of the work they produce, Cardboard Citizens tour their shows in hostels and prisons, in order to come into contact with those who are most likely to benefit from the stories they have to tell. With a more than competent cast and an appetite for change, this is a company committed to addressing social problems head on.
Or Am I Alone?, the company’s latest offering, presents the audience with three different protagonists in three different situations. Suffering from bereavement, alcoholism and redundancy, all three characters are forced into difficult and unfavourable situations which ultimately push them onto the streets. Having watched the show, the audience is invited to vote on which story they would like to forum – that is, which show they would like to see again, and in which they would like to intervene in the character’s decision-making process.
On this occasion, the audience chose the story of Suzanne, a teenager whose Mum has died and whose father largely rejects her. Having run away to London, she gets involved in just about everything she shouldn’t, and ends up a junkie. Audience members are encouraged to shout ‘stop’ when they see Suzanne make a bad decision, and to come up on to the stage and take her place. This forum was provocative, and several sensible suggestions were made about what Suzanne could have done to change the course of her actions, such as talking to a counsellor, seeking advice from a friend and ploughing further energy into the relationship with her father.
Some suggestions were more convincing, or better played out than others, giving them a hint of plausibility. But by and large, every suggestion made was one of wishful thinking rather than realism. The characters in the given scenarios act they way they do for a reason: without confidence or guidance readily available to them, they are cornered into making the ‘decisions’ they choose. The process of forum was eye-opening, but I’m not sure if it was for the right reasons. What was exposed was the inherent problems our society faces and the desperate situations it forces many people into, rather than a set of bad choices made by someone who had the power to choose otherwise.