Magic Moments

The use of Forum Theatre techniques can be helpful in understanding some of the dynamics and turning points that occur in individual and working relationships, and within and between communities. There can be many “magic” moments during a process, but not all significant “moments” are easy or positive – they may be significant but difficult moments. “Moment/Un-Moment” is a forum theatre-style exercise that explores and articulates some of the challenges and highlights for artists working across the arts – education – mental health promotion nexus. It recognises that the relationship between arts approaches, education and health can sometimes be harmonious and productive (“moment”) and at other times can be fraught with misunderstandings or dysfunction (“un-moment”).

Activity devised for the Artists Training Program by artists Caitlin Dullard and Anna Loewendahl. Images on this page were taken from a further forum theatre exercise, Rainbow of Desire, facilitated by Shahin Shafaei as part of the Artists Training Program.

Moment, Un-Moment

The aim of this process is not to solve problems, or for it to be used divisively to make a point. The aim is to unpack the moments to really see them and the potential for change (or not) within them. The process is run by an animateur or facilitator who keeps it on track and who offers insightful questions and comments to assist in the deepening of a scene. It is best that this person, known as the Joker, does not have an agenda.


  • Participants are instructed to: “think about two moments from your work in arts and health – one a positive, stand-out “moment,” and the other an “un-moment” – a time which really didn’t work, when you realised that either you didn’t “get it” or the people you were working with didn’t “get it.” These moments can be something of an epiphany and much can be learnt from presenting and exploring them.
  • Participants are asked to: “write a description of those moments on a piece of paper. Aim to write continuously and resist the temptation to edit as you go. We will play two pieces of music while you write. It’s your choice which moment you want to write about first. Keep in mind that these moments are to be shared with everybody, if you consent to that.”


Some phrases that might be used as stimuli:

“I think the problem is that some schools have good teachers and some have bad teachers.”

“I found it really stressful.”

“The kids were a wreck the next day.”

“This work is not good for my mental health, that’s for sure.”

“It was too big; it wasn’t what we bargained for.”

  • Participants are asked: “share the un-moments you have written about with a small group and choose one of those un-moments that resonates with your group. You will be asked to present this un-moment to the whole of the broader group. If you feel personally sensitive about what you have written, make it clear that you don’t want this un-moment to be presented to the whole group”
  • In this style of theatre, at any point audience members can alter the direction of the scenario. To do this, the chosen scenario is replayed until an audience member calls “Stop!” Usually the audience member then takes on the role of the protagonist – the person at the centre of the scenario – in this case, the artist or artist co-ordinator. The other characters stay true to their roles. However, any audience member can replace any of the actors that they would like to represent and initiate a change in the direction of the scene, with the proviso that they must stay true to the character. If any audience member thinks that the change that is introduced is unbelievable, they should call out “magic!” This then leads to discussion by the whole group about what is authentic to this situation.

Each of the groups presents one “un-moment” to the broader group. The three un-moments that were presented at the training day in Melbourne in October 2009 were:

Un-Moment 1: (An artist describing their workshop process in the classroom) “I have got no control over these children at all…”

Un-Moment 2: (An artist quoting the response from a school principal who didn’t appreciate the work she had done with students) “I rest my case – our teachers could have done what this so-called artist did – and where was the mental health message?! I can’t see how this is mental health promoting…”

Un-Moment 3: (an artist co-ordinator describing the pressures of a role that was responsible to multiple schools and health agency partners as well as the team of artists working in schools) “I just need more time… I can’t possibly meet the needs of everyone in this project with the limited time I have for this role.”

At the training day in October 2009 the whole group was then asked: “Which of these three “un-moments” resonates the most with your practice?” The majority indicated an interest in working with Un-moment 3: “I need more time…”

Glimpses from Replaying Un-Moment 3:

Artist Co-ordinator character: “The budget for this project simply does not allow for one-on-one meetings with steering committee members.”

Steering Committee character: “But the Steering Committee is IMPORTANT.”

School Principal character: “I need to close the school NOW.”

Artists Co-ordinator character: “I need to be able to tell when enough is enough – when to say no.”

Learnings from Replaying Un-Moment 3:

The “un-moment” was explored through following the dynamics and exchange between the Artists Co-ordinator character, the Principal character and the Steering Committee character, and having the audience introduce possible alternative approaches to dealing with the central conflict of having scant resources to respond to multiple demands. The learnings that emerged from this particular instance of using the technique included:

  • That it may require in-depth analysis of the situation over a long period to understand how the central tensions have arisen. With the benefit of hindsight it emerged that the situation was too big to be dealt with comfortably, and this prompted the question: where could we have toned down expectations? How far back?
  • In addition to the complexity and scope of the project, another of the factors contributing to the tensions within this situation was the lack of clear definition around steering committee roles and the need for clear lines of delegation.
  • The realisation that rather than helping to solve problems, meetings often seem to actually create work for the artist co-ordinator. Questions then emerged from this realisation: how do co-ordinators say “no” without stopping things happening, or risking needs not being met, or feeling that they are blocking the artists’ process?

The replaying of the un-moment during this exercise did not in itself arrive at a clear solution; however, the playing-out of the scenario was therapeutic for the group and for the individual who had volunteered the “un-moment.” It was also useful in serving to articulate and raise awareness within the FHL Statewide Co-ordination Team about some of the challenges and areas that needed revision within the artists co-ordinator’s position.

Rainbow Start

Now for the “Moment”…

While much can be learnt from re-imagining and unpacking the “un-moment,” the “moment” also holds rich potential for learning. The group can be asked to share their positive moments of working as an artist or artists co-ordinator in an arts and mental health promotion project. Below are some examples of “moments” identified by artists or artist co-ordinators.

“A wonderful moment for me was working at a special developmental school. We were supposed to be developing a circus act. The only thing the students could do was roll on the floor. The performing arts teacher had some music, and I came up with a song that they all managed to play. That moment of creation was fantastic and they were rapt – a truly joyful moment.”

“One boy was normally totally disruptive but every time I came to the school he would help me carry in stuff and practice his juggling and we had this special relationship. He became a different person in the class. His teacher said, ‘I can’t believe it’s the same person.’ He was the star of the concert that we held at the end of the workshop process.”

“The school I was working at was closing down – it was a depressed community. I was doing workshops with the students and after the juggling class the teacher was in tears of joy: there were two boys she had not seen smile the whole year, and finally something had broken and they had smiled and were human again.”

“So many moments – one was when I was working at a special developmental school and a boy was deaf and in a wheelchair and could sign but wouldn’t. I thought he couldn’t do it, but at the final performance he was wheeled up to the stage and he gave me a big smile and signed.”

“Dancing and hanging out at the community street parade in a country town with a special needs Aboriginal woman who had such joy was amazing.”

“For me, there are lots of special moments. One was when all the students were drumming. It could be stressful because it was a really loud noise, and some of the faces had pursed lips, but others had their lips open. And at the end of this one performance everyone held up their sticks at the end, all in time.”

“Seeing the culminating community street parade at the end of a project in a country town. What I loved was how palpable it was that all of the community came together for the first time.”

“There was contemporary and edgy art within this traditional, old-fashioned parade. I took away the sense that this was an event that ticked all the boxes that mental health promotion is on about – there were messages, but it was not preachy. The beauty and the creativity, the imagery was so strong. Speaking afterwards to the mental health promotion officer who worked with this project, I found that she absolutely understood all the implicit things within the arts outcomes and process in quite a complex way, and she agreed that it was not necessary to message everything in order for the work to be ‘mental health promoting.’”

“I have combined learnings from the Festival for Healthy Living (FHL) and other bits of my life. There are three strands to this: my PhD about the history of circus, my own company doing projects with kids, and the FHL. The understanding this has brought has come about partly through my being re-immersed into the school environment and finding how much more constrained it is. There is now a convergence in my life that has engaged all the strands.”

“Doing the visual arts project with fire-affected kids in Buxton. They kept drawing snakes and rainbows. So we created a big snake with rainbows and in five weeks we had it done and it was really popular and happened so quickly. One little girl waved and said ‘see you at arts.’ It was something she was proud of.”