Applied Theatre: Facilitation and Techniques

Applied Theatre is an umbrella term that is meant to describe a broad set of theatre practices that are simultaneously research methods and pedagogical approaches. They are often participatory and community-based, they foster an awareness of social issues and they exist outside the scope of traditional and mainstream performance theatre (Prentki & Preston, 2009). For this resource, we have used a convention called Playbuilding (Norris, 2009) to devise a series of scenes that pose haunting questions. These scenes can then be facilitated and discussed with learners.

This next section is for facilitators for whom the conventions of participatory theatre may be new. We outline a variety of ‘facilitation techniques’ that you may find useful. Our goal is not to prescribe what to do; rather, our aim is to provide a framework and techniques for exploring implicit biases as you use the scenes in your own pedagogical context.

Emily Style (1988) notes that curriculum functions as both a window and mirror. As a mirror, learners should be able to see themselves reflected within the content. As a window, learners should also be able to see the perspectives and experiences that are not of their own. This participatory method of co-reciprocal learning functions in a similar manner. Within this work, learners should be able to reflect upon experiences that relate to themselves while also being introduced to new experiences and perspectives. Beyond the value of definitions and case studies about implicit bias, our experience is that this method is well-situated to invite learners to go further. It invites learners to become more aware of the implicit biases that they themselves hold and to consider their own decisions and actions in new ways in the future. We recommend that you start slowly. Over time, we hope that you will become comfortable facilitating this cooperative learning approach.

Facilitation and the Joker

Facilitating through Applied Theatre techniques can add insights that cannot be gleaned through conversations alone. The scenes in this resource initiate conversation by providing concrete examples of situations. Relying on problem-based learning strategies (Hmelo-Silver, 2004), they ask co-learners to consider “what is going on here?” and “what might be done differently?”

While viewing the scenes (either as a whole class or in small groups), the facilitator of the workshop works with the class to navigate meaningful and sometimes challenging conversations. Beyond eliciting discussion about a scene, the goal is to utilize drama techniques in order to enable learners to re-envision the scenes. In re-envisioning the scenes, learners also re-envision new possibilities for future behaviours. In participatory theatre we refer to the person who facilitates this dialogic process as the ‘Joker’.

The Joker (or facilitator) acts as an intermediary, bridging the interactions between the scenes and the participants (Boal, 1992). The Joker listens deeply and guides the learners by proposing ways to explore the scenes further through a series of jokering techniques. (We introduce you to many of these jokering techniques in chapters 2-11). It is important that the Joker adopt an amoral stance (Norris, 2009), taking care not to provide prescriptive answers that can quickly shut down conversations. Instead, the Joker should dwell on an imaginative ‘what if,’ and enable learners to take an active role in their own discovery and learning.

Activating Scenes

The scenes that we created for this project were designed to be “activated” by the Joker. As Rohd (1998) describes,

“an activating scene grabs everyone in the room. It’s a scene that you create with your group. People need to care about it, recognize it, and be pulled into the drama of it. Most important, people must want to effect change in what they see. They need to see a clear opportunity to get involved and to explore options. An activating scene does not show what to do. It does not have a message. It asks what can be done” (Rohd 1998, p. 97).

When watching the scenes learners may find themselves faced with all kinds of emotional responses: discomfort, annoyance, anger, guilt, excitement, empathy, confusion and more. None of these emotions are right or wrong. Indeed, these emotions are indicators that the scenes are activating. The Joker (or facilitator) must pay careful attention to the kind of space that is created in the room while the workshop is being presented. It is the Joker’s responsibility to shape a space that is open to exploration, that is attentive to safety, risk and courage and that respects the unique needs and journeys of all involved in the learning encounter.

Table 1 provides a brief description of many jokering techniques. These techniques are adapted from the first edition of Playbuilding as Qualitative Research an expanded version will also be available in the forthcoming second edition (Norris, J., Hobbs, K., & Mirror Theatre, 2023). We provide specific details on each technique in chapters 2-11.

These jokering techniques are used to invite participation, but participation should never be forced. If these scenes are being used in an academic context where grading is involved, we strongly discourage attaching grades to participation in the scenes.

Table 1. Jokering Techniques



Remote Control As a scene is playing, the Joker can use an imaginary remote control to pause, rewind, or fast forward the scene in order to look closely at different moments or perspectives.
Tag Team As a scene is playing, a participant or the Joker can pause/freeze the scene. A volunteer switches places with one of the current actors and re-plays the scene with new insights or exploring a different idea.
Hot Seating This technique involves someone assuming the role of one of the characters in the scene. The audience can then ask questions to this “character.”
Voices for and Against Here, a tug-of-war situation is created. Two participants play the scene with one ‘for’ and the other ‘against’ a problem (issue, or possible action) while a third participant is in the middle, deciding what action or stance to take. This involves the audience providing suggestions to both positions of ‘for’ and ‘against.’
Out Scenes Co-learners are invited to construct scenes that might happen before or after the scene being workshopped. The might also construct scenes with different characters that could connect to the original scene.
Image Theatre This technique involves physical or verbal sculpting of a partner’s body into an image relating to an issue or moment in the scene.
Inner Dialogue Scenes are paused (using the remote control) in order to witness the inner thoughts of characters. What are they really thinking in this moment? How might it differ from what they are saying?
Voting with your Feet or Mentimeter/Chat Bursts This involves generating group perspectives in order to illicit discussion. In person, learners would move to one side of the room or the other in order to indicate preferences. Online, participants would vote in the chat and/or use an online word cloud to achieve a similar effect.
Index Cards This technique for expressing ideas involves writing comments or prompts anonymously. This approach is lower risk than expressing ideas out loud. The index cards are collected and then can be shuffled and used to generate new scenes, directions, or discussions.

Further reading on Applied Theatre and Jokering

  1. Boal, A. (1992). Games for actors and non-actors. Routledge.
  2. Kandil, Y., & Freeman, B. (2022). Applied Theatre. Canadian Theatre Review, (Winter, Special Issue).
  3. Neelands, J., & Goode, T. (2015). Structuring drama work. Cambridge University Press.
  4. Prentki, T., & Preston, S. (2009). The applied theatre reader. Routledge.


Haunting our Biases: Using Participatory Theatre to Interrupt Implicit Bias Copyright © 2022 by Kevin Hobbs; Michael Martin Metz; Nadia Ganesh; Sheila O'Keefe-McCarthy; Joe Norris; Sandy Howe; and Valerie Michaelson. All Rights Reserved.

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