By Silvia Olvera-Hernandez, M. Azahara Mesa-Jurado, Paula Novo, Julia Martin-Ortega, Aylwyn Walsh, George Holmes, and Alice Borchi.
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The arts can help people talk about problems related to the environment and think about possible solutions together. This project employed Forum Theatre, which is a performance method that actively involves the public to discuss issues related to the environment. The project was applied with the communities of two rural communities in the State of Chiapas, Mexico. The aim of the project was to highlight the communities’ values towards nature and to consider power differences in the context of environmental decision-making. Environmental resources, such as land, water and wood, are extremely important for humans; if mismanaged, they can be depleted, or result in poverty and discrimination for the people who depend on them. This is a problem for rural communities, especially in the Global South, where their values are often excluded from these processes.
In the script that we created for this Forum Theatre, fictional characters are represented by having different values and ideas related to the management of environmental resources, for example wanting to use local fruit for their small business of home-made jam, or focusing on the development of eco-tourism activities. Because of issues related to their gender, age and status, some characters have more decisional power than others, and this affects the way they interact during the play. Participants from the two rural communities which we involved in the Forum Theatre were able to empathize with the characters, and their feelings towards the problems presented in the play motivated them to participate in collective reflections about their own personal experiences in environmental decision-making. Following the typical Forum Theatre’s structure, they then rehearsed possible solutions for those problems by participating directly in the conflicts presented on stage; this brought to light the communities’ values and gave them an opportunity to reflect on them together.
The results of this project show that Forum Theatre is a promising way to discuss values related to environmental decision-making, but in order to change the way these processes are made it is necessary to engage those who implement decisions related to the environment, such as policy-makers.