Action Theatre to mobilize communities for change

Ain O Salish Kendra (ASK) in Bangladesh works to address numerous human rights problems, including gender equality and access to justice. Their approach is to form small local Action Theatre groups, or Manobadhikar Natya Parishad (MNP), by building collaborative relationships with local non-governmental or civil society organizations, as well as with local individuals.

Action Theatre is a form of applied theatre that revolves around the dramatization of a social problem. After the performance, there is a guided discussion with the participation of the community in identifying and carrying out solutions. The performance itself depends upon the human rights issues present in the local area, and can for example address problems such as underage marriages, domestic violence, education of children etc. ASK has developed small Action Theatre groups in villages in twelve areas throughout Bangladesh.

In one village, the Hatosh Haripur theatre group identified three major issues to tackle in their community: rape, under-aged marriages, and negligence in schools. As a result of organizing many Action Theatre performances on these issues in the community, significant community changes were realized including:

  • a reduction in the number of underage marriages - performances led community members to protest this practice and the community prevented at least five underage marriages through dialogue with the guardians and elected representatives.
  • improved educational achievement - after a performance of a drama on the right to education and subsequent community demands, within three months the education committee settled their conflicts and in the following year more than 40% of students passed the Secondary School Certificate Examination, compared to less than 10% prior to the intervention.
  • changing the response to rape cases - following a drama demonstrating the illegality of hearing rape cases in mediation the community grew sharply divided; but the final result was the chairman of the union council convening a public gathering declaring rape a major crime that would no longer be mediated. He sent future victims to the police to file a case.

ASK is a legal aid and human rights resource centre, created 1986 in Bangladesh. In addition to their legal aid work, ASK has initiated Action Theatre projects in twelve working areas in Bangladesh. The goal of Action Theatre is to develop the capacities of young people and activists at the grassroots level to be a force for change, helping to create a society based on human rights, gender equity and social justice. The tactical outcome is the creation of local theatre groups who initiate discussion, debate, analysis and actions on critical human rights issues in their community.
The tactic consists of eight different steps:

  1. To connect with local people to engage them in the Action Theatre, and to form relationships with relevant local NGOs and CSOs.
  2. To identify which local problems need to be addressed.
  3. To develop a storyline that will be helpful in addressing their topics.
  4. To make the storyline into a drama that can be performed for an audience.
  5. To practice on the performance.
  6. To start performing and engage the feedback given by the audience.
  7. To take action. This step is dependent on the reaction of the audience and on the discussion following the performance. Examples of actions taken after performances are rallies, demonstrations and planning for future activities.

To create institutionalization, for the theatre to become an important part of the community and to engage more people and more issues. Local theatre groups are gaining ground a mobilizing force in Bangladesh.

For more information on this tactic, read our in-depth case study.

New Tactics in Human Rights does not advocate for or endorse specific tactics, policies or issues.