Always leave the audience wanting more: An entertaining approach to stimulate engagement with health research among publics in coastal Kenya through 'Magnet Theatre'
Background: Magnet Theatre (MT), a form of participatory community theatre, is one of several public engagement approaches used to facilitate engagement between KEMRI-Wellcome Trust Research Programme (KWTRP) researchers and public audiences in Coastal Kenya. We describe how we used MT as an entertaining forum where audiences learn about research, and where researchers learn about how the public views research. Methods: Drama scripts depicting community interaction with different aspects of research were developed iteratively with research staff, a theatre company and community members. Six fortnightly theatre outreaches per site over two months, attracting a total of 1454 audience members were held in Mida, a rural village 30 km north of Kilifi; and in Mtwapa, a peri-urban town 45 km to the south. Audiences were presented with dramatized health research-related dilemmas and subsequently invited to enact their responses. Evaluation comprised, notes and observations from meetings, rehearsals and outreaches, transcripts from a review workshop with repeat audience members (n=21), a reflection meeting with KWTRP engagement staff (n=12), and a group discussion with the theatre company (n=9). Discussions were recorded, transcribed, translated to English and analysed using thematic approach. Results: Despite being costly in terms of time and expense, we argue that MT in public spaces can assist audience members to navigate 'border-crossings' between everyday contexts and scientific/research concepts. This can enable audiences to share their views and concerns and enact their responses to research-related dilemmas. Conclusions: While reporting on MT's successes, drawing from literature on rumours, we acknowledge the limitations of individual engagement activities in providing long-term solutions to address alternative interpretations and rumours about research, in the context of local and global inequities. MT, however, presents an opportunity for researchers to express respect to public audiences through making research more accessible and providing opportunities to listen to public views and concerns.