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  • Writer's pictureMuriël Bruijs

Empowering student voices through Exchange Theatre at IDEAs Academy

This week, Cultural Impact and KL Shakespeare facilitated two Exchange Theatre sessions at IDEAs Academy. While Cultural Impact and KL Shakespeare Players  typically work with business organisations, we are also committed to supporting community projects.   This is how we connected with IDEAs Academy, a school that ensures that every child between 12 and 18 years old gains a strong secondary educational foundation, allowing the students to become responsible, confident, and compassionate adults regardless of background, race, or economic situation. This is where Cultural Impact and KL Shakespeare came on stage to offer Exchange Theatre.

Exchange Theatre is a distinct experience as it offers a safe space to share one’s opinions and to practically try out ideas with actors in real time, ultimately gaining confidence and compassion to make a difference. The scenarios in the Exchange Theatre titled “Crossing The Line”, actors help to open conversations on issues which are relevant yet sometimes sensitive, such as gender roles and cyberbullying. The actors created an environment where the students felt safe enough to discuss issues they have faced or witnessed with peers. One of the student mentioned after the session to be respectful of other people’s views means understanding that everyone has their own perspectives

The Exchange Theatre group created four scenarios for the students, each one more relatable than the other. The show consisted of three parts. The first part was simply to watch the scenarios and think about what the audience would do if they were in the same situation. Then it was time to reflect, hearing and discussing each other's opinions on what students would do differently if they were in the character’s shoes. The last part was stepping into those shoes; it was time to play! 

The young audience were at first a little shy to speak their mind, but soon a shift was to be seen. Exchange Theatre addresses tough topics with a good use of humour -  “I guess Math can be fun. ”, to which the children loudly disagreed-, it breaks barriers and engages the audience. One pupil realised that;

I should not be afraid to stand up for myself.

Learning through theatre is different from learning in a classroom.  In Exchange Theatre, the actors portray various situations, prompting the audience to reflect on behaviours they recognize from their own experiences. Exchange Theatre does not tell what to do but helps the spectators to reflect on their own behaviours and perception of the situation presented to them. In “Crossing The Line”  the scenario Flexing Muscles  addresses how to react when your friend promotes a view that bothers you. The scenario tells a story about traditional gender roles and stereotypes, particularly regarding physical strength and household responsibilities. Jack is a character with the traditional view that men should be strong and tough, while women are expected to take care of domestic tasks like cooking. Adam, on the other hand, challenges these stereotypes by practising yoga and questioning Jack's beliefs about masculinity. The entrance of Sarah reinforces these stereotypes, with Sarah rushing off to help her mother cook.

With a knock on wood, Gregory stopped the play and asked the young students what they saw and how they interpreted the situation. As intended, the children noticed that Adam was not comfortable with Jack's beliefs. Following a discussion of a few minutes, it was up to the students to change the course of the play. After some encouragement by fellow peers, the first student acted along with the Exchange Theatre actors. A female student explained to Adam that boys and girls are the same species, here to work together as a partnership, not one above another. Alongside, if females want to become strong in the gym, they are allowed to do so, “some females even join the army”. However, some other students also voiced their opinion that boys should go to the gym because they need to protect the girls, and simply because girls like guys with muscles. Now, most of the girls shook their heads.

One student learned from this scenario that;

I shouldn't limit myself to society's expectations, but rather, I should do whatever makes me happy. 

The power of Exchange Theatre lies in this back-and-forth interaction between the students. Exchange Theatre is not about telling students what's right and wrong, but about empowering them to discuss their diverse viewpoints, learn from one another, and agree on behaviours and "rules of the game" that allow everyone to be themselves while respecting each other. Only after recognition of one's preference, can one break deep-rooted patterns and prejudices. This cannot be done without open conversations that respect different perspectives. As best said by Gregory during the theatre session; “you are allowed to have different opinions.” 

This open exchange fosters critical thinking skills. Despite initial apprehension, students bravely stepped onto the stage to test their ideas and improvise with the actors.  This showcased their ability to analyse information, form independent conclusions, and think on their feet to engage in respectful interaction. Change is a gradual process, and a single session won't dismantle deeply held biases and beliefs.  However, Exchange Theatre provides a platform for students to step outside their comfort zones, reflect on how their actions impact others, and initiate positive change. 

Exchange Theatre  ignites a spark within students, empowering them to carry these lessons of open dialogue and mutual respect beyond the stage. This newfound ability to engage in critical thinking and navigate diverse viewpoints equips them to create a more inclusive and understanding environment in their classrooms, communities, and ultimately, the world. Exchange Theatre serves not just as a platform for discussion, but as a springboard for lasting positive change.


Ideas Academy is transitioning into a social enterprise secondary international school . We aim to become self-sustainable by becoming the most affordable international school for Malaysians and foreigners, while at the same time offering refugees and the underprivileged grant fees.

At Ideas International we believe that every individual has the right to quality education and to be given the opportunity to create a positive impact in the world regardless of background, race or economic standing. We are driven by a vision of a better future, where education is a catalyst for transformation and equal opportunities.

Ideas International is a diverse and inclusive school and our mission is to create a compassionate community where it becomes second nature to collaborate and pay it forward.

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