Just Hearing

Just Hearing

Forum theatre based workplace training for legal practitioners around best practice when working people with lived experience of mental ill health. 
two people face each other across a desk, one with blue suit jacket and undercut hair tied back in a bun, the other wearing a green checkered shirt with short brown hair

Imagine a scene where a person with lived experience of mental health challenges walks into a solicitor’s office needing legal advice. Over the course of the appointment, it is revealed that the legal system is as complicated to understand as is the mental health system. It does not end well. Now imagine that you could rewind that scene and start again. Imagine that you as an audience member could jump into that scene where you think the solicitor could have approached the situation differently to bring about a better ending…

On the 22nd of March, 2023 delegates to the National Community Legal Centres Conference at the Grand Chancellor Hotel in Hobart will have the opportunity to do just that. Rebus Theatre in partnership with Canberra Community Law’s Mental Health Justice Clinic, will be guiding the audience through a performance of Just Hearing.

Just Hearing, commissioned by Canberra Community Law in partnership with Legal Aid ACT, is an innovative educational initiative to help service providers in the justice system to work better with people who are experiencing mental distress. Using an interactive model known as Forum Theatre, Just Hearing is a 90-minute performance that explores issues faced by people with lived experience of severe mental health challenges and their interactions with the legal system.

A person blue suit jacket and undercut hair tied back in a bun sits at a desk facing an audience
A Man wearing a blue suit addresses an audience from a podium in an office conference room

Just Hearing encourages audience members to reimagine how they might adopt a trauma-informed approach and reconnect more effectively, and to foster discussion in how legal and non-legal providers in the justice sector can create emotionally safe spaces for clients. The audience is invited (but never cajoled) to intervene in the performance and actively participate in creating a more just outcome for the characters. Interactivity is key to the Forum Theatre style, with audience members being asked to assume the roles of the characters in the performance. This dynamic technique will ensure that all audience members are highly engaged.

Following the launch of Canberra Community Law’s Mental Health Justice Clinic in October 2022, at which Just Hearing was also premiered, feedback was overwhelmingly positive. One audience member stated:

“I have two decades experience as a lawyer supporting those most vulnerable. I found the performance honest, genuine, moving and most importantly of educational value to community and professionals alike. Incredibly well done, I’m a huge fan!”

Just Hearing is a three-year project with short performance seasons in October and March each year, until March 2025. The project is funded by the Australian Government through the National Legal Assistance Partnership. It is a closed performance for conference delegates but with touring capacity. Further performances can be booked by interested parties.

Directed by Robin Davidson (Artistic Director, Rebus Theatre), written by Fi Peel (Production Manager, Rebus Theatre) and performed by Canberra-based actors Merryn Byrne and Craig Alexander. The production is supported by Genevieve Bolton OAM (Executive Director/Principal Director, Canberra Community Law and Farzana Choudhury (Disability Law Supervising Solicitor, Canberra Community Law).

In acknowledgment of the impact of vicarious trauma, Just Hearing also models its invitation to experiment with trauma-informed practice by providing a social worker during and after the performance to allow audience members the opportunity to debrief if the need arises.

“It has been deeply insightful and healing from a lived experience perspective, to be part of the reform culture seeking to shift the social narrative from within the justice sector.” – Fi Peel – Writer

“It has been a privilege to work with Rebus Theatre to deliver Just Hearing, and to actively elevate the voices of people with lived experience through the process. We hope that in sharing Just Hearing with the legal community, frontline legal assistance and other justice sector workers will be better equipped to support and empower people with lived experience of mental ill-health who engage with the justice system.” – Farzana Choudhury – Disability Law Supervising Solicitor, Canberra Community Law

Check out our Performances or join the mailing list to stay in the loop about upcoming performances.