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Street Theatre: Storytelling for Social Change (Updated 3 May)

"Storytelling for social change" is a movement that creates awareness and inspires action on women's safety and empowerment in low income urban areas through street theatre. A national roadshow brings these stories to local communities, along with a training workshop and toolkit that enables every individual in that community to carry on the movement. Street theatre is adopted as a medium of expression, to engage the wider community through entertainment and drive the message home. Lets explore the power of storytelling to ignite social change, shall we?

Photo of Vishal Jodhani
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I found myself among an enthralled and quite-a-shook-up audience at a performance of the recently acclaimed play,  Nirbhaya

Back-story: Nirbhaya (Hindi for "fearless one"), a pseudonym by which the victim of the notorious Delhi gang-rape (December 2012) became known in India. The play is performed by Indian women who give testimony about sexual violence and intimidation that they have themselves experienced. (Note: The all-India tour of the play was successfully  funded on Kickstarter).

Right after this powerful human rights theatre performance, the audience was invited to a conversation with the cast, and people were encouraged to step up and " break the silence". Women stood up and shared their own stories in this safe setting where the issue had been put out there and there was solidarity and support from a very sensitised audience.

Street theatre has been a powerful art form in India to spread awareness about social issues. And worldwide, theatre is recognized as an effective means to bring practical information to isolated communities. In low-income urban areas, this is a popular and accessible form of entertainment and responds to their need for stories and entertainment. Cleverly scripted plays, along with catchy slogans, song and dance, allow important social messages to be transmitted. 

[Further reading here and here]

The idea here is to curate real stories relating to women's safety & empowerment, scripting them in the form of accessible street theatre, and performing the piece in spaces and places that need this most.

The stories and entertainment are a means to stir up the audience, address this issue, offer hope, ideas and solutions, and lead to a much needed mindset shift.

We feel it'll be good to have a mix of stories woven into the play, each one addressing a certain theme/ dimension of the issue. Some stories would focus on the problem, while some would offer hope and solutions. 

The plays can be performed anywhere and can be customised (in terms of language and stories) to suit different local realities.

Building on the comments on this idea (by Carmen and Anne-Laure), these performance could essentially also include role-playing the different situations/ scenarios, these women could find themselves in. This " Fire-Drill" analogy will make the idea and messages more real and they can also be further customised to local contexts.

Based on Bettina's comments, we can also use other forms like puppetry (a successful art form) to engage a wider audience and also to bring parents and kids together (just as animated films do). This would also immediate opportunities for conversation between them to address the issue.

Most importantly, these issues would find a way to surface to the top and engage the wider community to be a part of the solution. 

A national roadshow: The storytelling movement to increase awareness through storytelling could be launched with a national roadshow that will pass through the communities that need it the most. The show will consist of a set of curated stories told in the form of street plays/role-playing local scenarios, a daily safe space to share experiences, as well as a group of trained facilitators who will engage with the local community and train them on using the medium of street theatre to continue the campaign in their locailty, ensuring a sustained impact.

The storytelling/ role-playing toolkit: To support the roadshow and enable local communities to learn how to use street theatre to address women's safety issues, the facilitators will also handover an easy-to-use toolkit available in the local language. This toolkit will contain promotional material such as posters and pamhlets, a set of scripts that can be used for plays and some basic training on storytelling and street theatre. 

Impact: A shift in mindset and actions on women's safety and empowerment, one community at a time.

Explain your idea in one sentence.

Using street theatre as a medium of expression for women around the country to share their stories on safety and empowerment, thereby creating awareness in local communities, providing a safe zone for open conversation on the challenges and inspiring action amongst women as well as men.

What is the need you are trying to solve?

The need to find creative and inclusive ways of engaging the wider community together to address this issue, to create a local movement that challenges status quo through easy tools, and to drive behavioral change through storytelling. Leveraging the need for stories and entertainment, in order to address challenges in women's safety and empowerment.

Who will benefit from this idea and how would you monitor its success?

The idea would directly impact women and girls in low income urban areas (and beyond). It will provide a platform to engage the wider community, including men, in the conversation. Measures of success: - Number of successful roadshows - Number of local communities that utilize the toolkit and sustain the movement - Number of performances lead by local communities - Number of play adaptations (different languages, different stories) - Number of cities/ neighborhoods where the plays are performed - The quality and quantity of actions triggered by the roadshow - Men and boys being more sensitized to the issue - Number of women that step up and speak up - Increased women's safety and empowerment in areas where the plays have been staged

Who would be best equipped to implement this idea in the real world? You? Your organisation? Another organisation or entity?

We've already put a starting team together (Deepti Chadda & I) and would be able and willing to play overall project coordinators and connectors. We would need to build a team (OpenIDEO Mumbai Meetup crew and beyond) and bring together the relevant stakeholder groups, such as local theatre groups, a local NGO working on the issue, a group of facilitators who can work with local communities - to design and deliver impactful content.

Where should this idea be implemented?

These performances could be tailored to different local contexts and travel as a "roadshow" to the communities that need it most. I can imagine these starting in India and Nepal in the initial stage.

How might you prototype this idea and test some of the assumptions behind it?

1. Contact local theatre groups and NGOs working on the issue (in progress) 2. Get support from local communities to find and curate stories (in progress) 3. Select streets/ neighbourhoods to stage the first "pilot" performance/s (could also be bus-stops etc. as pointed out by other ideas posted) 4. Observing audience reaction to the play, monitoring the conversations triggered and measuring the impact of these performances within those areas. 5. Depending on the success of the pilot, develop the roadshow model along with the supporting toolkit. Note: This idea was inspired (and gathered more support and form) at the OpenIDEO Mumbai Meetup (Mar '14).
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Team (4)

Vishal's profile
Bettina's profile
Bettina Fliegel

Role added on team:

"Suggested new dimensions (puppet theatre) to the idea that are definitely worth exploring!"

Anne-Laure's profile
Anne-Laure Fayard

Role added on team:

"I'd love for you to continue helping connecting ideas, building on this one and pushing us to prototype!"

Carmen's profile
Carmen Escano

Role added on team:

"Carmen, great ideas to support and build on the existing concept. We'd love for you to be part of the team to build on this idea, support us with testing and prototyping, and also getting others involved!"


Join the conversation:

Photo of Meena Kadri

Great thinking emerging from your OpenIDEO Mumbai Meetup, Vishal! We're interested for you to share this idea with local theatre groups / NGOs to gather their feedback and input as you evolve the idea further. Could also be great to start discussing with them what specific steps you might take to prototype and adding those to your post (lots of tips to build upon here: ) Super exciting potential...

Photo of Vishal Jodhani

Thanks Meena! Great input to start the conversation with NGOs/ theatre groups, even if it's just to map out the steps from idea to prototype. I'm on it!

Photo of DeletedUser


Hi Vish, awesome idea! I'm sharing some initial thoughts on how the initiative can become more local - As the roadshow goes through different cities it trains the locals on story-telling, speaking up and even using theatre for expression. This would enable the local communities to continue the initiative, having a longer-term impact. Taking a cue from Tall Tales, you could also explore how this idea can be supported digitally - bring it online through youtube, create an App for it to engage a wider audience, etc.

Photo of Himanshu null

awesome idea! I'm sharing some initial thoughts on how the initiative can become more local - As the roadshow goes through different cities it trains the locals on story-telling, speaking up and even using theatre for expression. This would enable the local communities to continue the initiative, having a longer-term impact. Taking a cue from Tall Tales, you could also explore how this idea can be supported digitally - bring

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