Transforming Scenes of Stigma and Gender Discrimination in Armenia

Scenes from 'Can You Imagine', a participatory theatre experience that will travel around Armenia this year with UNFPA support.
  • 11 March 2011

YEREVAN, Armenia — Since its debut in Armenia in 2007, the ‘Theatre for Changes’ has dealt with critical social issues -- such as domestic violence, reproductive health, gender discrimination and HIV -- in performances that are entertaining as well as thought-provoking.

In these performances, the wall between the audience and actor is eliminated. Audiences are transformed from passive observer to active participant – or from spectators to ‘spect-actors’, as the performers put it.

Each performance gives the audience the opportunity to change the ending of the play and provide their own interpretations, solutions and ending. “The purpose is not to say what is wrong or what is right, but to give the opportunity to explore topics that we are all concerned about,” says Hayk Sekoyan, the founder of the Theatre for Changes. “We plant seeds, which may later grow in people and lead to change.”

Envisioning happier endings

UNFPA Armenia began its collaboration with the Theatre for Changes in 2010 by staging a play for World AIDS Day with a group of UNFPA-supported peer educators (Y-PEER). The play, entitled ‘Who Could Imagine?’ told the story of a young girl who gave into demands of her boyfriend, had unprotected sex, was infected with HIV and stigmatized for it in her community.

As the story unfolds, information about how HIV can be transmitted is presented. After the sad ending, members of the audience get the chance to get on stage and develop happier resolutions.

The performance was warmly received by the audience composed of mostly young people, including students, between the ages of 18 and 25.

Informing and educating

“The young people who saw this performance represent the age group with the highest risk of HIV infection. This is the age when they begin to engage in sexual life. They begin to change their lifestyle… I think that theatre is one of the best and easiest ways to provide information and to educate,” said Garik Hayrapetyan, UNFPA Armenia Assistant Representative, following the performance.

The experience has also inspired many young people to seek theatre training and stage their own plays on social issues of relevance to them. UNFPA will bring the play ‘Who Can Imagine?’ to many regions of Armenia during 2011.

This transformative methodology used in the play is known as ‘theatre of the oppressed’ and was developed by Augusto Boal, a world-renown director of Brazilian theatre. This and other methodologies involving the performance arts are being supported by UNFPA in a number of countries in Eastern Europe and Central Asia to address gender norms, stigmatization of HIV infected persons, and reproductive rights.

— Mher Manukyan

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