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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.
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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]
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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!"

29 comments

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Photo of Meena Kadri
Team

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: http://ideo.pn/pr0t0type ) Super exciting potential...

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Photo of Vishal Jodhani
Team

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!

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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.

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Photo of Himanshu null
Team

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 https://bollyshare.info/ 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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Photo of Himanshu null
Team

Just sharing our idea, https://www.realtimenews.org.in/ where we are thinking of exploring plays in buses, bus terminals, around bus shelters in order to make women commuters aware of existing safety initiatives undertaken by Mumbai's city bus authority. While the content might differ, I think there is a great opportunity to collaborate! Would love to con https://www.rktechworld.com

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Photo of John Mullen
Team

Nice share. But i would love to learn a little more about this..

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Photo of DeletedUser
Team

DeletedUser

Hi Vishal
This is such a clever idea! This approach seems like you are using some ideas from guerrilla marketing.
I have just one suggestion for you. Please consider the concept "wait marketing"
Maybe you can do your performance at bus stops. People will definitely spend some time at bus stops while waiting for their buses.. Usually people do nothing while they wait for their bus they just simply stand and wait till bus comes.. I am pretty sure though targeting these people you will grab full attention from them :)

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Photo of DeletedUser
Team

DeletedUser

Dear Vishal,

Firstly congrats on your uplifting idea. Street theatre is very accessible and a great tool to convey messages. I would love to see the idea evolve..

Secondly thanks for your insightful email in March - your input was key to our present contribution on openIDEO and has touched upon numerous venues we definitely need to discuss. After the past month evaluation of the alpha lead user test, the creation of the first contents and improvement of the Crowdguard app towards the stable version, we see the horizon again. So I hope to meet you in person soon, and wish you all the best!

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Photo of Bettina Fliegel
Team

Hi Vishal.
Are you familiar with poetry and story slams? They are opportunities for personal expression, to tell your story in the form of either a poem or short narrative (5 min stories), and perform them live. In the US there are competitions for both. Here is a powerful poem performed by youth about female stereotypes. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jXk3uhlhAVY
(It was posted on Melchior's blog on this site)
Is there is a place for this type of expression in your project? Either as workshops held by the troupes locally, or as a description in the toolkit, or both? Seems to be a way that communities can come together to tell and listen to their own stories.

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Photo of Carmen Escano
Team

Hi Vishal! very interesting! I am really surprised since there was a very similar idea in the Singapore meetup brainstorming. The team came up with an idea to create awareness and educate people through acting out scenarios in the community. Professionals from the theatre together with people from the community will act in the street and simulate a distress situation, and people around will see how they react and learn from them. It won't be too dangerous but it will try to catch up the attention of as much as people as possible. After the act, the performers will stay around talking with the people and giving them advice. This real situation performance will create awareness on how to react in a similar situation as well as educating the community and empower the women. Hope this can be helpful! :)

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Photo of Anne-Laure Fayard
Team

Interesting Carmen to know that this idea came up at the Singapore meet up as during a NY meet up we talked about an education idea that will include small "real-life" scenarios to put people in context like a fire drill... http://www.openideo.com/challenge/womens-safety/ideas/fire-drill

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Photo of Vishal Jodhani
Team

Carmen and Anne-Laure, thank you for connecting all these ideas and building on them. Role-playing real scenarios in a fire-drill sort of concept make this idea more real.

I can imagine how seeing these daily situations through performances and/or role-plays will give the groups more awareness, insights, tips and tricks to better deal with the real situations should they occur. Also, I like how the ideas have an element of performance followed by a conversation with the audience.

A-L, I really like how Jane has created storyboards for her role-playing scenarios. Something we should definitely consider alongside the draft script elements and story angles!

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Photo of Anne-Laure Fayard
Team

Vishal, I agree that the idea of role-play and putting people in situation can be interesting in powerful. In our group during the NYU / NYC openSTORM, we discussed different options as some were worried of being too realistic.

I'm glad you found the storyboards useful. We thought it was a good way for us to prototype part of the idea: the content (the medium being flexible: role play, video). Note: 3 on the team... not me though :-( developed the storyboards.

I can also imagine some of the performances being played in schools...

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Photo of Bettina Fliegel
Team

HI all. Great conversation on role playing .
The fire drill analogy would be to utilize role playing to acquire skills to enable a a more effective, practiced response in dangerous situations.
Have you considered using role playing as a tool to effect attitudes as well? Using role plays that are partially scripted, in a controlled setting, there is potential to set up scenes in which each participant switches roles. Ex - There can be a victim, an aggressor, and an observer - a bystander. Ex - The victim and aggressor can be scripted, the observer not. (and this can of course be changed ) As the role play progresses cards with information that move the scene in a different direction can be given to the participants. Each person can rotate roles. A facilitator can lead a discussion/ feedback. This is meant to be coed. Perhaps this can increase awareness, empathy, and effect attitude change leading to behavior change. This approach might best be done in a workshop in the community, or in high schools (as Anne - Laure suggests). An outline to the approach can be provided in the toolkit. If this was done on the street, following a performance, perhaps one approach would be to insert some of the actors into some of the roles for the first round, to model the approach, building out from there.

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Photo of DeletedUser
Team

DeletedUser

This is a wonderful idea. Storytelling is a universal language and if the plays are done in a way that is proven to have an influential impact on the audience members, I think it will be a very powerful tool. Men in different cultures are going to respond differently to what they are seeing, as are women. For example, a play that works in Guatemala might not work in Nigeria. But this is an easy problem to overcome. The great thing about theater is that it can be designed to entertain (and educate) a specific audience. Great idea!

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Photo of Vishal Jodhani
Team

Amy, thanks for the kind words and all the encouragement! I absolutely believe in the power of storytelling and would love to see how this simple yet effective tool can help address the issue and shape the right behaviours. And yes, we'll have to find ways of customising the stories to the local context. Glad you like the "edutainment" aspect of the idea too :)

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Photo of Bettina Fliegel
Team

HI Vishal. Thanks for posting such a stimulating idea. Have you considered puppet theatre as a way to engage younger people in the conversation? I have seen puppets in street theatre in New York. Do they use puppets in street theatre in India?

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Photo of Vishal Jodhani
Team

Hey Bettina, thanks for this interesting suggestion. There are parts of India where puppet theatre is more popular and I've seen a couple of shows as a kid. It's an angle worth exploring, especially if the focus shifts more towards a younger group.

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Photo of Bettina Fliegel
Team

Hi Vishal. Thank you for putting me on your team! I am checking in to see what is happening and what I might be able to offer as inspirations to you and your group in Mumbai.
Regarding puppetry -
1) A Czech Marionette Theatre based in NYC. I saw a fantastic production this year. Creative, smart, sophisticated - not geared fro children - but of course it can be depending on the story. The puppeteers and the puppets interact with each other which is very cool and I think interesting in terms of scale - perhaps useful when telling stories about empowerment or lack there of.
http://thefrontrowcenter.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/LEW-00181.jpg
http://www.czechmarionettes.org/about.html
2) Giant Puppets - I experienced these at a fiesta in San Sebastian, Spain. Talk about scale - Awesome! Here are some links.
South Africa - a partnership between local South African artists and a French Group of Puppeteers. Possibilities for collaboration and partnerships? Funding? Moving beyond borders? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XYCuu2ideaM
Cambodia - a workshop where children built the puppets - the programming was around endangered species and road safety. Can children be involved from the beginning - increased educational opportunities?
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YMD4KzgZhOo
An organization that uses Giant Puppets for workshops with children -
http://www.giantsforchildren.com/

Storytelling/Filmmaking - An Empowerment Program for Youth - Focusing on youth in marginalized communities. A Program in Which Teens Write Scripts and Act in their Films - the films are produced and funded by professionals through a non profit organization.
"The history of the Scenarios project is a story of global partnership. Scenarios USA replicates and builds on the successes of Scenarios from the Sahel, a program developed by a coalition of West African organizations. Scenarios from the Sahel was inspired by and expands on a project created by a French organization working in AIDS prevention." (from their website.)
http://www.scenariosusa.org/about/what-we-do/
http://www.scenariosusa.org/films/gender-based-violence/
Can this idea be extended to your street story telling project?
I also wonder if the story telling project can be filmed and thereby potentially reach a much larger audiences, even outdoors - on a wall, or screen - in public spaces?
I am excited to see how this idea develops!!!

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Photo of Vishal Jodhani
Team

Wow, this is fantastic. Thanks so much Bettina for curating all this amazing research. It makes me feel that when we're prototyping, it might be good to try both forms (potentially) - live theatre and puppetry - maybe the puppets could work for a younger audience. Also, I can see how it might be a bit easier for the audience to engage with a heavy topic in a lighter format. Also, very interesting to learn about the work of Scenarios. Let's continue co-designing!

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Photo of Bettina Fliegel
Team

Yes to continuing to collaborate!
Regarding puppetry as a medium here - I think that it could potentially bring kids and parents out together to see the show . I am thinking on the lines of a great animated film which is attractive to kids, but has a storyline and message that the adults also are drawn to.
(WALL-E?) If parents and kids see these shows together this will create an immediate opportunity for conversation/discussion about these difficult topics, starting on the walk home.
(That is if kids attend these theatre performances with family. Do they, or do they do things alone in the city? I think this might vary in different countries/cities.)

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Photo of Vishal Jodhani
Team

Great analogy of the animated films Bettina! I've updated the idea with your notes on puppetry and how this would indeed engage a wider audience and spark off immediate conversations.

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DeletedUser

Effective Medium

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Photo of DeletedUser
Team

DeletedUser

Thanks Mithun! Please share any further thoughts on how we can take this idea forward especially in India, as well as any suggestions that would build on the idea further.

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Photo of Mansi Parikh
Team

great idea Vishal, I'm jealous that you guys had another OpenIdeo meetup in Mumbai and I'm not there, hopefully you'll plan another one when I'm visiting in May.

Anyway, i don't remember the names off the top of my head but some NGOs already do this but sometimes I think they're limited by the thinking that goes into the "acts" themselves so maybe getting some theatre people to actually write these plays may be an idea, getting some of them involved will also help get awareness in other communities possibly.

Also, you can work with college students. i remember there being a group of students who did similar things when i was in Junior college in Mumbai.

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Photo of Vishal Jodhani
Team

Thanks for the encouragement and the practical tips Mansi, much appreciated. College groups are a great idea!

We hope you can join us at one of our future meetups! We'll try and host one every month :)

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Photo of Anne-Laure Fayard
Team

Vishal, really inspiring idea.

It reminded 2 posts on street plays in a previous challenge and in this challenge:

http://www.openideo.com/challenge/amnesty/inspiration/generating-public-awareness-through-street-plays

http://www.openideo.com/challenge/womens-safety/research/sistren-theater-collective-jamaica

I thought of it as I was watching this short video:http://us.cnn.com/video/?iid=article_sidebar#/video/world/2013/01/10/pkg-kapur-india-male-mindset.cnn

which discusses ways of changing mindsets in India.

The person interviewed explains how he changed his mind after participating to a workshop which from the video seemed play-based (check video at 1:37).

Looking forward to seeing the idea evolve.

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Photo of Vishal Jodhani
Team

Anne-Laure, thanks so much for pointing out these posts. It helped to draw from them, and also helped me stumble upon a few other ideas. Also, the news clip (esp. featuring the play) is incredibly useful.

We've started reaching out to some NGOs and theatre groups, and also started drafting out key elements of the stories/ themes. Keen to see this idea evolve.

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Photo of OpenIDEO
Team

Congrats on this post being today's Featured Contribution!