Forum Theatre for Midwives, Oxford Brookes/Progress Theatre
What is Progress Theatre?
Progress Theatre is a theatre company that makes work about midwives, for midwives. Midwives often describe themselves as swans: serene on the surface but paddling away furiously underneath. Progress Theatre offers a space to look at the under-the-surface- stuff: the everyday pressures that are normalised, but which actually have huge sway in how we care for women.
We are a group of midwives who are also theatre practitioners. Devising our material draws on our lived experiences and resonates strongly with our midwife audiences: ‘did you base that on our Unit?’ is a common response. Members of Progress Theatre are Gemma Boyd, Adele Stanley, Fallon Dyer, Radha Wilson, Nicky Hargreaves and Kirsten Baker.
Our methodology is based on the dramaturgy of Augusto Boal: using forum theatre, we present realistic, recognisable scenes about everyday midwifery practice. Then audience members are invited by the ‘Joker’ to become ‘spectators’, stepping into the action to comment on what happened in the scene – they can argue with the characters and even take their place to replay the scene. Through this, student midwives get to analyse and demonstrate how things are, and – critically – how they could be.
At the heart of Progress Theatre’s work are the kinds of universal experiences that challenge midwives across the profession. Capturing those moments is incredibly important, as it allows participants to explore those common problems in a new way, provoking new and imaginative solutions. Tackling important subjects like workplace ‘horizontal’ bullying, or the potential triggers of midwifery for people who have survived sexual abuse, Progress helps midwives to develop skills that are vital for practice.
As Kirsten recounts, ‘People often comment that moving from drama to healthcare must have been a big change for me, but to me one led very naturally to the other. Putting yourself into another person’s position, knowing how to empathise and improvise, is a vital part of both drama and midwifery.’
Theatre uniquely shows life as it is, and enables changes to be created moment by moment, breath by breath. There is plenty of scope for humour – the midwife who reports not having time in a busy shift to go for a wee presents an opportunity for a ‘spectactor’ to take on the role of the full bladder, alongside ‘paperwork’, ‘policies and guidelines’ ‘management’ and ‘time’.
And – yes – we did base this on your Unit.