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Caleb Johnston

Playing with Wildfires

This is a collaborative project utilising Boal’s model of Theatre of the Oppressed and forum theatre to facilitate community-based dialogue and response to conflict experienced in communities most affected by wildfires in Bolivia’s Chiquitania region.

In 2021, 28 participants from different communities created the play in Santa Cruz, and in 14 subsequent performances, 800 audience members participated in the work. In the tradition of forum theatre, spectators were invited to intervene and come on stage to explore possible solutions and futures to the ‘fictional’ conflicts presented on the ‘stage’.

We deployed forum theatre to generate a space for substantive dialogue and for the sharing of experience and strategies between and within communities (indigenous, migrant, peasant) who are often in conflict on issues sparked by wildfires, i.e. land dispossession, lack of resources, and more.

In 2022, we curated a photography exhibition which documents the forum theatre work in Bolivia alongside the lived experiences of project participants.

The exhibition has been presented at:

Casona Mayorazgo, Cochabamba, Bolivia, 14-24 April 2023.

Royal Geographical Society, Pavillion Gallery, London, 13-26 March 2023.

Annual conference of the Royal Geographical Society,  Newcastle, Aug 2022.

ESRC Festival of Social Science in Scotland, Creative Stirling, 17 Oct – 13 Nov 2022.

British International Studies Association, Glasgow, 21- 23 June 2023.

In 2023, the project created Después de un Incendio (After a Fire, directed by Miguel Hilari). The film has been screened at:

Fenavid, Santa Cruz, Oct, 2023

Aricadoc, Chile, Oct 28, 2023

Festival de Cine Radical, La Paz, Bolivia, Nov 2, 2023

International Documentary Festival in Amsterdam (IDFA), Nov, 2023

This collaborative work brings together a dynamic international research team of researchers, artists and activists at Newcastle University (me, Alastair Cole, Melisa Maida), Glasgow University (Lorenza Fontana), Ciudadania Bolivia (Daniel Moreno, Sonia Homan, Pablo Urquiri), and Colombia’s Institucion Universitaira del Valle (Angelo Miramonti), as well as local community organisers (Meliza Ribera), independent photographer (Max Hirzel), and two Bolivian filmmakers (Ernst Drawert, Miguel Hilari).

For more, see Playing with Wildfire.