Forum Theater is an educational program and community outreach strategy that is part of the larger cancer prevention efforts of the Community Network for Cancer Prevention (CNCP). Based on the work of the Brazilian director and activist Augusto Boal (1931–2009), this interactive theater program is designed to stimulate community involvement in problem-solving related to cancer health-care issues.
The CNCP uses Forum Theater to:
- Engage medically underserved communities in Harris County, Texas, who are disproportionately affected by colorectal and cervical cancer.
- Educate these communities through novel theatrical performances about their cancer risk and the benefits of colorectal and cervical cancer screening.
How does Forum Theater work?
Before any performances take place, the CNCP involves community health workers in developing health-care messages about colorectal and cervical cancer that are targeted to Harris County communities—Hispanics, African Americans, and Vietnamese Americans—in which the incidence of colorectal and cervical cancer is high. The messages are crafted to be culturally and linguistically appropriate for each audience before they are incorporated into performances.
Key barriers to colorectal and cervical cancer screening are addressed in each performance:
- Difficulties people have talking about colorectal and cervical cancer.
- Cultural taboos in the targeted communities that hinder communication about colorectal and cervical cancer risk.
- Misconceptions people still have about preventing colorectal and cervical cancer, despite public educational campaigns.
- Mistrust of the medical establishment that prevents people from seeking colorectal and cervical cancer screening.
- Barriers inherent in the health-care system.
Each Forum Theater performance dramatizes a core conflict about a cancer-screening issue. For example, the Forum Theater troupe may portray someone who does not want to be screened for cervical cancer and is confronted by friends or family members. Audience members are invited to actively participate by proposing solutions to the conflict, such as presenting the screening information differently, correcting misconceptions about screening, and providing additional information that could aid a screening decision. Audience members who propose solutions to the conflict are allowed to role play, which theoretically will reinforce healthy behaviors and lead them to take the actions needed to prevent colorectal and cervical cancer.
Performance locations in Harris County are selected by ZIP code, sociodemographic characteristics, and cancer burden. Currently, the Forum Theater has three troupes that are available for performances. The goal is to stage 12 performances for each community.
The Forum Theater troupes made a valuable contribution to the greater Houston/Harris County area in educating the community. Check out their efforts to raise awareness, lower the incidence, and increasing screening for cervical and colorectal cancer.