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Psychological Research Project for Establishment of Employment and Independence Support for Unemployed People
"Forum Theater at Employment Independence Support Centers"

Writer: KOGA, Yayoi (Kwassui Women's University) FUJIMOTO, Manabu (Institute for Teaching and Learning)   terms: 2016 4

Supporting the homeless

A Forum Theater scene being performed by the Dramatic Delivery Network The problem of homelessness receives less attention and is not discussed as much as it has been at certain points in the past, but the number of “near homeless” people is increasing. The need for daily life and employment support for people living in poverty is therefore just as great as ever. Employment support centers promote independence through employment by providing people living in poverty who have the desire and ability to work with opportunities for housing and employment training. By fiscal year 2014 twenty-one of these centers had been established in nine localities, mostly in major cities. An expansion to thirty-four centers in 21 localities has been planned for fiscal year 2015.

At present we are active at one of these facilities. At this center there are many people who have not been able to obtain employment because they have problems communicating. Some of them are people who have started working but quickly returned to the center after causing interpersonal problems at their workplace and quitting. The center has held classroom courses to reduce their communication problems, but these initiatives have not resulted in significant improvements in outcomes.

In the midst of these circumstances, in July of 2014 the following team was assembled to begin providing skills training for people living in poverty utilizing the Forum Theater approach: Fujimoto (analyst), a social scientist who conducts research on communication from the perspective of interpersonal behavioral studies, Koga (coordinator), head of an NPO involved in the development of applied theater as an aspect of cultural policy studies, and Otsuka and other members of the Dramatic Delivery Network (trainers), who have extensive experience as “forum theater” performers.

Skill training through Forum Theater

Forum Theater is a participatory problem solving program designed by Brazilian theater director and educator Augusto Boal. It is conducted as follows. ① Participants, who are also the audience, perform short dramas about the problems they face in their daily lives (in some cases the participants themselves create the dramas before performing them). ② There are discussions with the participants about how these problems might be solved. ③ The solutions obtained through these discussions are incorporated into revised versions of the dramas (in some cases participants are asked to put up their hands when they have a solution to a problem, and those who propose solutions are then asked to act out the scene in question). By repeating this process, the participants find the best solution to each problem working together as a group. Because Forum Theater does not require that its participants have any knowledge or skills related to theater, even people without any theatrical experience are free to take part. The performers, on the other hand, require experience and proficiency in improvisational theater. And the facilitator who manages the discussions must have the ability to bring everything together coherently while eliciting a large number of thoughts and opinions.

The program we are conducting at the employment independence center takes place in two-hour sessions held on two days. In the first day’s session, traditional communication skill training is provided and relationship-building that allows participants to comfortably share their opinions with each other by moving their bodies is carried out. In the second day’s session the Forum Theater approach is implemented, and participants are given an opportunity to think about ways of avoiding or resolving interpersonal problems. In our program we perform a drama that depicts a convenience store clerk being backed into a corner in the midst of problems interacting with his or her boss, co-workers, and romantic partner. Through a discussion, we then consider with the participants how each character could improve their conduct in order to effectively resolve the problems. It is more like an audience-participation quiz show than a training session, and most of the participants enjoy taking part.

Looking toward the future

We held a total of six training programs between April 2014 and January 2016. Right now we are verifying the effectiveness of the program and working to improve it. We have confirmed that our program improved participants’ communication and social adaptation skills. One interesting finding was that the effect of the program differed depending on the individual characteristics of the participants. I will present our findings in detail in future research reports, but it is clear that our program had a “remedial effect” of bringing participants’ deficient skills closer to normal standards. This is a good result for an employment independence center communication course.

The homeless support system was revised in fiscal 2015, and now targets a wider segment of society. Forum Theater, which can address any sort of problem by changing the plot of the drama performed, is a method ideally suited to support targeting a diverse group of people. In the future we hope to utilize Forum Theater to conduct skill training support programs targeting not only homeless people but also other groups, such as young people or “NEETs,” who have difficulty living in our society.

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