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Stunts and street theatre

Last edited: January 03, 2012

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Stunts and street theatre, unlike rallies or marches, do not need many participants to attract attention: an inspiring, eye-catching stunt that gains media attention can be as effective as a large demonstration. A stunt is generally a short, original action or a gimmick, e.g. a giant doll, displayed in a visible public place. Street theatre is usually a skit that raises the issue where many people walk by and can stop to watch, e.g. markets, or spaces near churches and other places of worship. Street theatre is also an excellent way to convey messages to people who may not have access to the press and other media, e.g. in slum areas or poor rural communities. See also Cultural events.

If you are planning a stunt or street theatre, ensure that you challenge misconceptions and stereotypes. Instead of depicting women as helpless victims or as mischievous creatures waiting (or deserving) to be “punished”, performances should show how women and girls can play an active role in ending violence, and how preventing violence can be of benefit to society as a whole.


Example: The South African organization Youth Channel Group (YCG) has used theatre to catch attention on issues of gender, domestic violence and HIV/AIDS. Its “ambush theater” approach has consisted in staging scenarios depicting domestic violence in crowded places, such as taxi ranks and train stations, so as to attract large numbers of curious onlookers who often did not realize they were watching a performance. The actors then engaged the audience in a debate on the issue. (Source: Siegfried, K., 2005. I Have to Take a Stand so That Society Can See the Change is Inevitable: Case Studies from the South African Men as Partners Network, EngenderHealth)




Golden Rules for stunts and street theatre

  • Identify your audience, your purpose and your message. Are you introducing a topic to strangers, or boosting the morale of supporters? Where do you need to go, and when, to attract the attention of your audience?  
  • Prepare a simple script that summarizes the key moments of the play, and then find the best ways to express your message while you’re rehearsing.
  • Rehearse enough to be confident, but not so much that you get bored. Pre-test: show the sketch or short play to people who do not know your campaign and ask them for feed-back. You do not have to be brilliant actors – the best way to convince people is to enjoy what you’re doing.
  • Do not rely on technical effects - even one person switching a tape on/off at the right moment can make a mistake and spoil the show.
  • Keep props simple, but colorful to attract attention. A plain wooden chair can be used to stand on, to hide behind, to shout at, or even play a role as a ‘silent character’.
  • Humor beats horror on the street – a good-humored sketch will draw a friendly audience, while graphic representations of violence can backfire. If you poke fun at someone, deride the perpetrators of violence – not the survivors!
  • Inform the press, other media and supporters well ahead of time and hope for good weather.

Source: inspired by Friends of the Earth, 2003.