How Can Theatre Be Used In Conflict Resolution?

Convener(s): liana Winterstein and Libby Altaras

Participants: Lots of very nice and interesting people. Sorry, forgot to write down the names.

Summary of discussion, conclusions and/or recommendations:

The discussion focused upon the use of theatre in conflict resolution. My efforts at making notes of the interesting and inspiring twists and turns of the conversation are as follows:

Criticisms of the term ‘conflict resolution’. The words themselves are too weighty. It places an emphasis on an ‘all or nothing’ mentality, whereby it becomes only worth doing if we can completely and neatly solve a problem.

Phelim talked of ‘World Work’ – how he first learnt about Open Space. World Work places participants into the different roles of a conflict situation and they each must inhabit and speak from within them.

There are three levels of reality:

  1. Concrete
  2. Dreaming
  3. Essence level/deep mythological level.

No conflict will transform unless it can be dealt with on all levels. Theatre has the power to open discussions and deal with issues on the dream/essence levels. Theatre can make transformations happen.

Definition of war = any conflict without a facilitator.

Open Space can be a good process/tool for conflict resolution. By using the ‘Law of Two Feet’ people have to take responsibility for where they are in the space and whether they get involved in the conflicts happening or not.

Open Space Art is most productive when there is potential for conflict and when there is a real question to address. 

Process is key, don’t be afraid of conflict, but enter into it with awareness.

Questions were raised as to how theatre in conflict resolution can actually reach a governmental level? And is reaching such a level in fact the goal/answer? Or is changing things on a ground level the key? 

Example from Jonathon about his verbatim play ‘Fallujah’. It was seen by army generals who subsequently rewrote their training manual for British army recruits(?)

Questions raised: Can you do damage by doing something? Is it dangerous?

Each step is towards something bigger. We can give tools to make theatre with, tools with which to express themselves but we don’t need to solve everything. Are not responsible for solving everything.

Is it necessary to take support with you and partner with the right people to ensure that you don’t leave a situation in a worse state ie. Therapists?


Sometimes we encounter negative voices saying: ‘Unless you are an expert then don’t enter into the conflict’ and ‘It’s only theatre so what good is it doing?’ These voices are also part of the conflict. 

Do you need to leave a legacy? A long-term plan for a project? 

We need to be brave enough to know that we have something to give. Don’t downgrade art and the work of artists. It is still valid in conflict situations. Theatre does have power to change things.

Problematic elements of conflict resolution drama projects:

- Uncomfortable feeling of being a foreigner entering a situation and ‘making things right’. Arrogant and presumptious.

- Problems of going into a situation, gaining trust and running a project, only to then leave when the project ends. Need to train up local community to continue with artistic projects. Empower them. 

Be aware that the process continues with the participants even after the project has ended. Empower people and give them the tools to air their voice creatively and channel their anger in artistic ways.

Ripple effect.

It is dangerous to think that art cannot make changes.

Showing experiences from one part of the world to the other can be revealing. Eg. South African teenagers came over to Ireland during the height of the Troubles. Apartheid was focused on race, Irish conflict on religion.  Each was surprised by the others reasons for conflict. Holding a mirror up to conflicts.

Process of devising theatre is that of conflict resolution.

When working in a multi-lingual group set up a system for allowing people to take out their anger in their own language and then repeating it in English. This gives an opportunity for all to understand it, and also to diffuse the situation and analyze it.

It is best to go with a process not an objective. Objective should be to make a good production.