Interactive social Forum Theatre: preventing negative phenomena in the youth environment through theatre

Let's look at the statistical data on the extent of these issues in Russia and Moscow, leaving outside a no less critical issue about the terrible consequences behind these figures.

• According to the National Conflicts Research Center, Moscow is classified as having "very high interethnic tension". Young people are the most frequent participants in interethnic conflicts.

• According to UNESCO in Russia, 32% of teenagers commit violent actions against their peers and about 27% of schoolchildren are victims of bullying.

• The prevalence of drug addiction for 2015 was highlighted in a report by the head of the Federal Drug Control Service: Ivanov cites a striking figure of 7.3 million drug users in Russia (in 2013 the number was 3 million). There is no official data on Moscow, however optimism leaves much to be desired - all experts agree that the situation is more critical in large cities of the country. Addiction is a problem for young people: today, schoolchildren account for 20% of drug users, and young people under 30 account for 60%. The average age of starting to use drugs is 15 -17 years old.

• Another critical problem related to young people is the steady increase in HIV infection. In 2001, there was a sharp increase in the number of infected people in Russia - 90 000. In 2015, their number exceeded 1 million people. The number of newly diagnosed HIV cases increases by 10% annually. According to official data, there are 90 000 people living with HIV in Moscow today. The fact that the notion of "risk groups" in HIV infection has virtually ceased to exist is especially alarming: a third of new infections occur as a result of heterosexual contact.

In Russia, a large part of the public funding is directed to the treatment, rehabilitation and eliminating the consequences. At the same time, experts agree that investing in preventive measures is much more effective and economically viable.
However, experts also point out the critical shortage of effective preventive programmes.We see one of the reasons for the prevalence of negative social phenomena among young people in the absence of such programmes.
The education system is what traditionally carries the main burden in preventing the negative phenomena in the youth environment. Indeed, educational organizations regularly organise lectures with representatives of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Ministry of Health and other specialized bodies. However, shocking statistical data clearly demonstrate the ineffectiveness of such a purely informational approach to preventive measures.
Young people in today's modern metropolis live in a world of accessible information which is easily obtained with a touch of a button. Unfortunately, this information is lost as easily as it is gained. What kind of education should be in the framework of effective preventive measures?

According to educational psychologists, the best effect is achieved in the case of:
  • Active interaction with the educational material, both in theory and in practice
  • Connecting emotionally
  • Sharing solutions, opinions, views between learners
  • An engaging non-traditional form of learning
Introducing preventive programmes that meet these requirements can reduce the prevalence of the negative phenomena among young people.
The performances of the Forum Theatre raise a serious social problem, which the audience has to solve. Any audience member can participate in the scene: the audience can suggest their own version of how a character should behave and try it themselves on the stage. The Forum Theatre invites the audience to reflect and find answers to important questions for themselves.

The theatre's repertoire currently has 5 plays:

A story as old as the world itself: a young man and a girl in love with each other. Both finish school and are going to enter university. Each of them has a loving family, and everything seems to be good, but ... There's an obstacle between them that echoes modern reality: she is Russian, he is from Dagestan. There doesn't seem to be a problem or is it indeed a dead end? The audience of the Neighbors face a much more difficult question: is this the only problem and how can it be solved?

My friend is a drug addict
A childhood friend, one you've known since primary school, knocks on your door, smiles happily and ... asks for money again. You know what this money is for. You drive away terrible thoughts. You don't talk about this with anyone. The friend comes again and again. His hands are shaking more and more, and in his eyes there is a hollow void. What can I say to him? To his parents? My girlfriend? What can I say to myself, before it's too late? The audience of the Forum Theatre has a unique chance to see the world through the eyes of the people who have to find a way to solve this problem. This means, they can understand what can be changed

The Choice
A play about life, fate and the difficult choices that can affect all participants of the story, and in the most unpredictable ways. The script is written about young people (the age of the main character of the premiere is 21 years old), who are forced to solve serious adult problems. What drives us to make the choices we make? Who do we face when we make a decision - is it our parents? Our loved ones? Or perhaps, the most important thing is to answer to yourself?

A schoolgirl is treated as a misfit in class; at first there is only whispering behind her back (this is annoying but tolerable), then some voices become louder (you want to close your eyes and ears, pretend as if it's not there), finally, the voices are chorusing and devour you like an avalanche (there is no escape, no chance to run or hide; in fear, you run out of breath)... Is there something wrong with the girl? She is quite ordinary and doesn't give you a negative impression at first glance. Is there something wrong with the class? It's the same as any other, a classroom in a regular school, different children from neighbouring houses. Is there something wrong with the teachers? The staff? The parents? And why did we decide that something is wrong at all? The Forum Theatre play is devoted this time to the problem of bullying at school.

The theme is preventing socially caused diseases among young people.
A little story about the first serious relationship: little experience, emotions and a lot of thinking. The level of knowledge about safe behaviour is very low.
This play is an opportunity for an open dialogue. Together with the actors, the audience becomes participants in the process of talking about who is responsible for what and what to do if this topic affected you or your friends.

The Forum Theatre plays are focused on:
Preventing addictions and co-dependence
Breaking down stereotypes and prejudices
Promoting constructive behaviour skills in difficult communication situations

The Forum Theater project is supported by the subsidy from the Moscow city budget, received as a result of the contest held by the Public Relations Committee for socially focused non-profit organisations.