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Caleb Johnston

Playing with Wildfires: Theatre of the Oppressed and ecological crisis in Bolivia

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 was featured at:

The 2022 annual conference of the Royal Geographical Society in Newcastle.

Creative Stirling, 30 Oct- 13 Nov 2023

Royal Geographical Society, London, 13-25 March 2023

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

Upcoming dates:

Glasgow Science Festival, Advanced Research Centre (ARC) main hall, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, 21-23 June 2023.

British International Studies Association (BISA) Conference at Hilton Glasgow, Glasgow, 21- 23 June 2023.

Our partners in Bolivia are currently ourganising further touring of the exhibition and associated public discussions with communities in the Cochabamba and the Chiquitania.

We are also nearly finished a project documentary film. Stay tuned for that!

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.