Using Theatre to Counter Youth Radicalisation

A belief in theatre and drama to be an instrument for social change is central to the work of British theatre in education practitioners. The following video is a short talk by Shelley Piasecka on the importance of using theatre to counter youth radicalisation.


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Drama strategies

The following page offers a number of drama based activities to enable further exploration of some of the themes and issues appearing in Tapestry.  They do not require specialist skills but descriptions of the basic techniques are included for those who have not used them before.  If class control is an anxiety for teachers inexperienced in drama, plan your lesson well in advance and ideally run the session with the support of another colleague or a classroom assistant.

Drama is a good distancing technique for young people as it allows them to explore situations that they may encounter in real life but from within the safety of a fictional context.

Hot seating

Someone takes on a particular role or character and is interviewed by the rest of the group. This activity allows a character’s motivations and emotions to be examined in more depth. An example of this is when the class talks with Hassan and Jason.

Ask the students to take on the role of newspaper reporters. Tell them they are going to interview key characters from Tapestry in order to gather information for an exclusive story they are going to write for their newspaper. Prior to questioning the characters get the class to decide on a focus for their story and to create a headline, for example: “Extremists Clash in City Centre”.


Still image

This is the creation of a still or frozen image using a group of people who ‘freeze’ in a pose to capture a particular moment, idea or theme, as in a photograph or painting.  This technique has distinct advantages when a teacher is exploring ideas or themes which pupils find complex or vague. An example of this might be asking the young people to predict the potential consequences of Jason and Hassan remaining with the ‘Circle of Truth’ and ‘True Patriots’.

To create a single concrete image requires thought on the part of the students so that their image is precise and not misinterpreted. Particular attention should be given to body posture and facial expressions. How do others interpret the still image? Who do they think is depicted and what is happening? Allow time for adjustments for clarity and dramatic effect.

Ask the students to create a still image marking a moment from the story that they felt was of significance to them.  Ask the rest of the class to try to identify the moment being depicted.  Deepen the image by asking why the moment was important and what the character might have been thinking or feeling in that moment.  Get the students to articulate these thoughts/feelings as if they were the characters. You can also create pictures for moments we have not seen in the drama; what was it like when Claire, Jason’s sister, tells him she is going to marry Rafique? Perhaps show the moment when Rafique introduces Claire to his family.


Forum theatre

In groups students can improvise scenes that deal with difficult situations. Ask them to end the scenes at a moment of crisis or where a choice or problem manifests, and show them to the whole class.

Replay the scenes inviting the observing students to stop the scenes at a point where they would have behaved differently in order to bring about a positive outcome. Ask them to step into the scene and show everyone what they would do.  The teacher should remain as a neutral facilitator throughout, encouraging the pupils to consider the consequences of their actions.

Get the children to improvise scenes showing the following:

  • When Peter Jeffries asks Jason to come on the protest
  • When Hassan is asked by Dr Farooq to organize a meeting at his college
  • When Naz is walking home and encounters Jason and some other young patriots
  • Through forum theatre the students should be encouraged to explore a number of different responses to the problems encountered within the scenes, which will in turn affect the outcome of this part of the story.


Role play

Individuals take on a character role and rehearse a scene that deals with a particular situation.  This technique allows young people to explore situations from a different perspective and to practice skills.

At the end of the drama Naz is still in hospital, Jason is on his way to meet someone and Hassan is wondering what to do next.

What do you think Jason might do next? Talk to his sister, college advisor, friend? Play out the scene that follows Jason’s departure from the hospital.

What do you think Hassan will do next? Play out a conversation Hassan has with his brother, father, friends or his Imam.


Teacher in role

This is when the teacher adopts a role in order to deepen the young people’s understanding of the ideas and themes within the drama, to pass on important information or to shape the drama from within.

The young people can also be put into role.

The teacher takes on the role of a community youth worker to talk to the young people about encouraging inter-faith activities in their youth club.  The teacher sets them the task of creating a timetable of activities that accommodates a range of different needs. (Diet, single gender activities, celebrations etc.)

The teacher goes into role as a community worker in the aftermath of the protest depicted in the drama. The teacher poses the challenge to the students in role as community members to find ways of resolving some of the issues that manifested on that day.


Where do you stand?

The following exercise can be used to begin exploring notions of loyalty, allegiance, and friendship.

Take the following two statements:

  • Free speech means you can say what you want
  • You should not be allowed to say things that offend.

Imagine that there is a line between these two statements. Place yourself on the line according to which one you agree with more. This can be done as a drama exercise with one end of a space representing one statement and the opposite end the other.

It can be done as a paper exercise with a line drawn between the two statements.
The exercise encourages discussion and debate.

Other pairs of statements might be:

  • We should help those that suffer injustice.
  • There will always be people who complain that the world is unfair
  • My opinions should be respected
  • No one can tell me what to think or do
  • Making a fuss gets you nowhere
  • It is right to defend your beliefs
  • If you want things to change you have to be prepared to fight
  • Violence never solved anything.

The pupils can come up with statements of their own for this activity


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Why use theatre and drama?

Using participatory theatre and drama (such as Tapestry) is a good way to support young people in exploring sensitive and contentious issues. It serves not only as a stimulus for further discussion and debate, presenting potential real life scenarios, but it also provides a context for the immediate expression of ideas, opinions, questions and experiences by participants.

Working through drama can provide opportunities for authentic teaching and learning. That is where young people voice their opinions, express their feeling and make genuine choices within a meaningful context that relates to real life.

Good drama provides no right and wrong answers, instead young people are encouraged to speculate, say what they think and feel, share experiences, make choices and to reflect upon the consequences and implications of any decisions taken. In this way they are supported in coming to informed choices, making decisions about what they consider to be the ‘right’ course of action and formulating their own moral judgements. This takes place with a full awareness of the potential impact of these.

Drama can accommodate different learning styles – for those whose learning style is kinaesthetic, spatial and interpersonal, drama provides opportunities to learn through discussion and debate, physical expression and group work, rather than simply through reading or writing.

Drama also provides its participants with safety and protection. Because it uses a fictional context to explore sensitive issues and because it is the character’s situation and choices that are placed under scrutiny, it allows the participants to draw on their own experiences without ever being put on the spot themselves. Working in this way allows participants to practice strategies and try out ideas in the knowledge that there won’t be any real life repercussions. At the same time they are able to make connections between what they have learned in the fiction and apply it to the real world.


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