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Learning from the Best

One of the best things about being a Year 2 student in our Diploma in Applied Drama and Psychology (DADP) is the chance to work with Dr Peter O’Connor, a renowned Applied Theatre practitioner from New Zealand.

In October, Peter taught us the module “Introduction to Theatre for Intervention”. Although it was a gruelling 5 days, it was an amazing opportunity to be taken under his wings as we learned about Forum Theatre and Playback Theatre.

During the first 2 days, we spent our time understanding the origins of Playback Theatre and how it works.  So what is Playback Theatre? Well, in a Playback Theatre performance, audience members are invited to tell their stories and the actors then immediately enact that story for us all. 


Halfway through a Playback performance.
Notice the conductor and storyteller (from the audience)
sitting on two chairs off to the right.

The best part was the improvisation exercises we did with Peter. Everyone took turns to tell stories, and we worked in groups to think of how to play those stories back, on the spot. The fun part was exploring different genres. Imagine the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet played out Chinese opera style. These exercises trained us to think quickly and creatively.


The next 2 days saw us working on Forum Theatre. To put it simply, a Forum Theatre performance contains scenes in which the protagonist is oppressed by other characters. The audience is invited to stop the performance at any time, take over as the protagonist and try out solutions that may solve his/her problems.


The conductor (Hong Ye, in black shirt and glasses) introduces
the actors in his Playback Theatre group before the performance
starts. JT (black glasses, big smile), John, Sylvia (half hidden)
and Rachel (totally hidden).


Working with Peter was an amazing experience simply because we were learning from someone who walked the talk. What we learnt in this one week will go a long way towards my being a Applied Theatre practitioner in the future.  I believe that when Playback Theatre or Forum Theatre is used appropriately in the right situation and context, positive changes can be made.


Written by Yaw Wen Ping

Year 2, Diploma in Applied Drama and Psychology