Open Gate/La Strada is an organisation which works with a very specific problem, and that is the problem of Human Trafficking. During these last few years our country of residence, Macedonia, has been directly faced with the refugee crisis, with huge influxes of people, families and children transiting through our country. We have been involved with the refugee crisis since its very start, we worked with all of the people in need providing shelter, food, water, psycho social support, educational and recreational activities etc.
We were directly faced with these people, we understood their needs and that they are just victims of the wrongdoings of this world, they are not here to harm anyone they are just here seeking a better life, a safe life and a life without war. We as an organisation and as people understood that, but then we were faced with the problem of the viewings of the rest of the public, who had very negative feelings regarding the refugees and migrants, especially the children who were negatively influenced by the adults and the media around them.
That was when we decided to do something to change this and make sure that all of the public, with a special accent on the young people, should be aware of the actual situation of the refugees and migrants in our country and in the whole world in general. Then we decided to re-start the implementation of one of our previous practices and that is The Forum Theatre.
According to previous experiences, we have noticed that sensitization based only on information is not always effective. For a full understanding and experience it is necessary for the users to become actively and directly involved. For this reason Open gate/La Strada started with the implementation of an Interactive Forum Theatre, based on role-playing on the topics of human rights, migration, human trafficking etc. which was be based in the cities or villages who are directly affected by these topics or have a lack of knowledge on them.
The Forum Theatre is aimed to bring together young people and the general public in order to raise and increase awareness and to provide a more comprehensive understanding of the refugees’ and migrants’ experience during their journey and their accessibility to services among public.
The Forum Theatre turned out to be a very effective way for transmitting the message to the audience, it offered the young public a new interactive and interesting method for learning, presenting problems of the everyday living in society and giving the opportunity to the audience to visually see how we react in some situation and how we can change them with our attitude or decisions. The difference between the theatre and the forum theatre is that the audience is not only a passive viewer, it can be actively included in the performance, giving solution that can change some part of the theatre or even the whole show in some cases. Primarily, the main role of the forum theatre is to present as much solutions as possible for changing the current situation or problem.
During this last year and up until now Open Gate has implemented more than 20 Forum Theatres with the children of the cities and villages who were directly faced with the refugees.
The theme and concept of the Forum Theatre was a mother with her daughter, who also had her own child, and their friend. The mother wanted to go to smugglers in order to cross the border and go to Germany, whereas the friend tried to convince her not to go, but sadly did not succeed. The play shows the whole process of this situation, from their stay in the camp to their stay with the smugglers, it does not have a happy end, and that is why there is a way to change everything.
The interesting part of our practice was that we did not hire any actors or actresses to portray the roles of the refugees in the play, in other words the actors in the Forum Theatres were our social workers on the field, who had been working with the refugees and migrants in the transit centres in Macedonia for almost two years. Through this the children had a very realistic view of the lives of the refugees in the camps, and had the chance to ask anything that they found interesting or did not understand and get an answer from the people who were a part of the everyday life of the refugees and migrants in Macedonia. The second interesting segment of the Forum Theatre were the reactions that we received from the children who ranged from: “Yeah we all know that the refugees are terrorists” to “The refugees are not to blame for anything, we should do everything we can to help them”. It was a very good feeling to change the mind-sets of all of these children and to give them a clear picture of what is really going on in the lives of the refugees, with the smugglers, with their travels and in the transit centres.
At the end we are happy to say that the outcome of the Forum Theatre is all for the better, we are proud to have modeled so many young minds and made them understand that we alone have the power to change some things and help people that are in need.
For sure, this is not the end to our creative practice, and we are looking forward to the future.