Community Organising theatre of the oppressed Training

Changing the Rules Onstage: Legislative Theatre Training with Katy Rubin

By Kasia Blackman, EFA teacher-organiser and Southwark Hub Lead

Civic change practitioner Katy Rubin, formerly of TONYC, throws a sentence starter out to the group, inviting us to complete it with a sound and image. ‘Democracy is…’

The room is quickly filled with wails, shrugs, shouts of anger, swearing and laughter as we wave our arms with enthusiasm and let our heads fall despairingly into our hands. On this wet November weekend, we are kicking off a two-day Legislative Theatre training hosted by Islington-based Union Chapel. 

Last May, a couple of English for Action colleagues attended a Forum Theatre training in Edinburgh with Julian Boal that inspired two stimulating ‘Forum Theatre for Organisers’ workshops and a performance at EFA. Now, I was back to learn more about another branch of the Theatre of the Oppressed tree (see below). 

(Credit: TONYC The Wildcard Workbook by Sulu LeoNimm, Liz Morgan & Katy Rubin)

So what is Legislative Theatre?

In Legislative Theatre, community actors create a play based on their lived experiences of oppressive policies and practices. An audience of stakeholders and policymakers is then invited to watch the play, during which they can intervene to confront the problems presented, testing their ideas in real time. Actors and audience members then propose new laws, rules and policies to address the problems. These proposals are discussed, amended and voted on by the audience members and actors, and finally, policymakers are requested to commit to implementing the changes. This is participatory democracy in action. 

How do you do it?

Throughout the training, we played games that challenged us to recognise and subvert social norms, reminding ourselves that things do not have to be as they are, that in fact ‘up’ can be ‘down’ and ‘stop’ can mean ‘go’. The games prepared us to be playful and creative and to begin to imagine possibilities beyond the constraints of detrimental rules. 

During the training, we divided into three groups: (1) play-making; (2) research and policy; and (3) facilitation. The play-making group worked on creating a short forum play that exposes an unfair rule, policy or practice. 

The research and policy group identified key stakeholders and power holders in the policy area that the play addresses. They determined who should be in the audience and who would have the power to implement the necessary policy changes. The work of this group is what distinguishes Legislative Theatre from Forum, and it will be familiar to campaigners and community organisers. 

Finally, the facilitation group kept an overview of the whole process and moved the discussion forward, in order to help everyone arrive at worthwhile and workable policy changes. Their role was to pin policy makers down and ensure they committed to taking action on the policy proposals.

So, does it work?

Yes! Katy peppered the training with examples of effective Legislative Theatre processes from New York to Manchester and Glasgow. In New York, Legislative Theatre was used to engage city and federal government representatives on issues including housing, justice, and LGBTQ rights.

In Greater Manchester, participants with experience of homelessness used Legislative Theatre to help develop a five-year Homeless Prevention Strategy. And in Glasgow, young people from Glasgow Disability Alliance and Young Movers fed into the City Council’s climate, transport and city development strategies through a Legislative Theatre process.

What next?

At English for Action, we are excited to start experimenting with Legislative Theatre as we embark on our latest transnational research and training project, Community Organising For All (COFA).

As part of this Erasmus-funded project, we will be exploring the relationship between Legislative Theatre and Community Organising — specifically, how Legislative Theatre could serve as a new entry point to organising and policy making for ESOL students.

For more information about the COFA project, contact the project lead at

For more information about our training, including Theatre of the Oppressed training, contact


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