Why Theatre Matters to Odobate, by MC

“Not one student showed up!  I don’t know where I went wrong!”  I half shouted to my mom.  I was sitting in the tree on top of the hill where cell signal is strong enough to call the States.

“Honey, did you use the word ‘theater’?”

Ahh, of course. 

My name is M. C. Moritz and I was lucky enough to be a facilitator at the 2016 Acting Out Awareness camp in Drigari.  Odobate’s spirited troupe of eight teenagers recently rocked our little mountain town with three performances.  But the journey from shy muchachos to confident young adults was long (…and so incredibly muddy).

Despite visiting every home, putting a sign-up sheet on my door, and blowing the conch shell with all my might, nobody showed up to my first information meeting.  In hindsight, this wasn’t surprising.  I had told my community that we would talk about potable water, hand washing, and HIV.  I tried to sweeten the deal by promising “theater”.  I may as well have said “let’s discuss uncomfortable taboos in a way that makes everyone incredibly vulnerable”.  After the phone call to my mom, I changed my tactics.  “Fire and candy.  School yard.  20 minutes”.  Twenty students showed up.

During that first charla we used the fire to heat a ½” metal pipe which we then used to melt a hole in a plastic 5-gallon bucket.  We then attached a faucet to this hole, essentially making a little water cooler.  We admired our handiwork and went on to learn about safe water storage and treatment.  I had a pocket full of 5 cent hard candies from the local tienda to reward participation.  The kids were stoked!

The next day I presented the second charla on handwashing.  Despite the lack of fire and candy I still had about 15 students attend.  We played several rounds of “Crocodile”, a local game of hand slapping-type play, before digging into the nitty, gritty facts about microbios, diseases, and the awesome power of soap. 

I was most nervous for the final charla addressing HIV and AIDS.  This topic is fraught with more rumors, disinformation, fear, and shame than any of the previous sessions.  As I taped up the large poster papers my mind was racing.  What would their parents think if I tried to teach them about condoms?  What will I do if the conversation turns towards homosexuality?  How can I make them vigilant and not terrified?  When I turned around to face the classroom I found Maestro Milton’s smiling face.  “Want some help today?”  he asked.  Milton is from the big city, but moved to Odobate four years ago and married a local woman.  He currently teaches 7th grade and is one of the most popular teachers at our school.  “Yes, yes I think I need your help very much today!”

The eight students who attended the final charla went on to participate in Drigari.  They had a blast and we hadn’t even completed the soggy walk back home when they started asking “when can we perform? We wanna perform!”.  We ended up have a show in each of Odobate’s 3 neighborhoods.  The women cooked rice and lentils, the men mixed up some chicha to drink, and the students proceeded to drop knowledge bombs on their family and friends.  The most powerful part for me was to see the older community members sit up and take notice.  We did our entire presentation in Spanish and Ngӧberi to make sure Odobate understood that we all have the power and responsibility to protect the health of our community. 

I’m so grateful to have had this opportunity.  I know my students learned a ton and there has even been talk about future performances when school is in session this March.  The Acting Out Awareness seminar has made a difference in Odobate and I can’t wait to see the effect blossom in the coming months.

M.C. Moritz