As a theater professional, selected for a 5 days Theater Based Techniques in Peer Education Training by the UNFPA bureau in Bucharest, I was very excited and eager to see how theater can sustain an education endower in issues regarding HIV/AIDS, sexual reproduction health, gender issues and responsible sexual behavior for youth. In contemporary dramas, these issues are still the most commentated and debated, constituting the “ingredients” for daring, outspoken and powerful theater performances. The fact that contemporary dramas plunged into revealing and analyzing same issues UNFPA is dealing with outlines the subtlety and the importance of these issues and their understanding for the 21st global society.
The interesting mix UNFPA suggested for the Sofia (Bulgaria) training workshop: young people and young adults from the theater environment and Y-Peer trainees or trainers, revealed the availability and the limitations of both theater and Peer Education, according to regions participants were active in.
Choosing theater as a mean of educating people is not something new. Ever since Middle Ages, theater was called “university of poor”. Theater has predicted all major social changes in the end of the 19th century as well as in the beginning of the 20th and these days, ever since the ’90, theater has become a new media where serious issues are debated and analyzed, in a way in which no journalist or writer can produce, no matter how skilled and talented they’d be.
I was familiar with HIV / AIDS education through theater is regions as Africa, where the access to information is limited and the awareness on issues is very low.
The Sofia Training Camp (20-24 June) brought to my attention a new concept: edutainment. Combining education and entertainment seams to be a prolific way to get the message through. However, the all American concept is an achievement of an evolved society and is to be regarded with precaution when applied to other societies as those in Eastern Europe or Central Asia. Romania is a space where this concept could function well if implemented with great responsibility, through professional facilitation that are involved in working with young people and the active and resourceful professionals from the Y-Peer medium.
I am familiar with educating through theater but only for the sake of theater itself. ACT Theater that I culturally managed for 30 months previously had a special program dedicated to educate high school students in appreciating and understanding theater as an art form. As a facilitator of those meeting (4 every school month, from September to June), I can confess that in Romania, no matter the long theater tradition, theater is no longer a popular entertainment. The cause of this recent phenomenon, that has started slowly to occur by the mid ‘90s, is long and it’s not the object of this article. However, it is a fact and has to be mentioned in order to explain why edutainment is a concept that may not be very easy to implement in Romania. Still, the country is diverse in how edutainment might work. Cities that have a strong theater tradition and a variety of theater institutions, both public and private, may be more susceptible in using it then other small towns or rural areas.
Romania though is still a society that can be considered opened and quite modern, where things I was trained into in Sofia, can still happen. Through private conversations with colleagues from mostly Central Asian countries, I came to understand a different approach to HIV/AIDS, sexual reproduction health, gender issues and responsible sexual behavior for youth. Women can’t buy condoms in pharmacies; people can’t say publicly the word “condom” and public debates on the issues already listed are taboo. People who were making me aware of these issues were mostly related to secular traditional and spiritual social behaviors. My personal believe is that, in order to have a success in Theater Based Techniques in Peer Education Training, besides theater people and volunteers or workers in state / private bodies that deal with the sexual reproductive health, there has to be involved both religious and political bodies, too.
During my 5 days training in Sofia, I’ve became familiar with games, debates, challenges that all conveyed towards the final goal that was a theater performance based on very short plays developed by trainees divided in 9 different groups. The forming of each group was a chance drawl, so the first challenge evolving 4 people from different cultural and professional backgrounds was to agree on a common topic that would interest and stimulate everyone. The 9 themed-short plays covered pretty much the whole area of issues regarding sexuality and sex and dysfunctions associated with these, both on health level as well as social level. My group that had young people of 3 nationalities: Russia, Tajikistan and Bosnia-Herzegovina, developed a short presentation on young people dating on-line and then the stereotype regarding people who use Internet for relationships. The play was then grouped with other two pieces that debated on the gap between the generation of parents and their adolescent children.
The speed in which this creativity workshop rolled during the course of the five days was immense. Assimilating the news and tools, the information, alternating creativity to physical exercises made the whole training a very intense one. But reflecting back, there is no smoother way for such things to happen, so I am really thankful to the whole organizing crew in Sofia (Cydelle Berlin, Ken Hornbeck, Malika Atasheva, Naida Kucukalic, Corina Tarlev, Ala'a Jarban) who kept us focused, concentrated, motivated and also entertained.
As a conclusion to my participation to the Sofia 5 days training in Theater Based Techniques in Peer Education, I think that the only professional institution that can generate the implementation of such program in Romania would be the “I.L. Caragiale” National University of Theater and Film Arts in Bucharest. Being the most important higher education institution in artistic training, the university sees each year tens of young professionals ready to start work. Being skilled, in search of a stable work engagements, these young actors, directors, choreographers and stage designers can easily establish, in partnership with a serious institution, a theater company that can develop performances that would be later presented in high schools or other educational institutions where the message on HIV/AIDS, sexual reproduction health, gender issues and responsible sexual behavior for youth has to get through. Edutainment is possible in Romania.