AIDS IN WESTAFRIKA
Few regions of the world have been so seriously afflicted by HIV/AIDS as West Africa. More than 6 million people in 19 countries are infected. Over half of these are in Nigeria, which after South Africa and India has the third-highest number of people living with HIV/AIDS.
The reasons for this are to be found in traditional, gender-specific behavioural patterns, in religious and socio-cultural factors as well as in regional conflicts.
In addition to efforts to ensure that HIV-positive individuals in West Africa are adequately supplied with anti-viral drugs (only one in ten even has access to these), along with the development of vaccines, prevention is the most important instrument in the fight against the worst epidemic of the modern age.
The most effective prevention is to educate and/or to raise awareness amongst the population. This is the purpose and objective of our theatre play “Dangerous Relations”. On the basis of the play, we will also be producing a television film and a radio play with the same title. These will be designed to supplement and reinforce the educational effect.
The play «Dangerous Relations»
What makes this play so special is the fact that it tackles practically all the important questions and issues relating to AIDS. These questions also include the taboos surrounding sexuality and the need to address this issue, particular with respect to HIV/AIDS. Other topics raised in conjunction with the West African context include the widespread sexual abuse of schoolgirls by teachers, and the need to prevent acts of violence which are encouraged by fallacies (e.g. that the rape of an uninfected girl could heal AIDS).
The central factor is the lack of knowledge and understanding about routes of infection and dangers, and the need to educate the population in order to expose prejudices and misconceptions. A further important topic is the discrimination suffered by HIV-positive individuals on the one hand, and the need to lift this stigmatisation on the other. When it comes to the spread of misconceptions, references are also made to the role played by religions.
In addition to the treatment of the sad fact that (single) women and young girls (two thirds of 15 to 24 year-olds with HIV in Sub-Sahara Africa are female!) are particularly at risk, the play also attempts to raise awareness of the relevant issues amongst all generations and population classes. For example, the importance of having an effective social network and the need to encourage strength and self-confidence amongst sufferers is highlighted.
These complex issues are developed in a lively manner, and are brought across by encouraging audiences to identify with the fate of the protagonists. In dramaturgical terms, the piece is superbly well-structured, highly dramatic, and even funny. Its complexity lifts it above conventional AIDS plays.
Another significant aspect here is the fact that theatre can be promoted not just as a means of voicing important topics such as HIV/AIDS, but also as an important form of communication in West Africa.
In 2005 the director and actor Roger Nydegger (Switzerland), working together with Abou Batoe (Burkina Faso) and Lazare Minoungou (Burkina Faso), developed and wrote the play «Dangerous Relations» drawing upon improvisations and in-depth research conducted on the ground.
The selected subject-matter was tested during public performances in schools and markets in Ouagadougou. These performances triggered at-times fierce and lively discussions. The final version of the piece reflects some of this feedback. This thorough preparation and research gave rise to the prototype of a theatre play which can be adapted with minor changes in structure and content to reflect the particular needs of various West African countries without undermining the basic structure of the exciting «Dangerous Relations» love story.
The television production «Dangerous Relations»
Once we have produced the play in Accra (Ghana), we will go on to produce a television version of the piece in collaboration with the experienced television director Niyi Akanni from Nigeria and Roger Nydegger.
We will then make this available to various state-owned and private television channels in Ghana, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Liberia. This will make it possible to reach an audience of millions of viewers. At the end of the piece we will show the addresses of AIDS prevention organisations as well as the address from which our information brochure (see below) can be obtained.
The radio play «Dangerous Relations»
Likewise in Accra (Ghana), we will work together with the actors to develop a specially-adapted radio play version of our piece. The medium of radio has a very high status in West Africa, and radio plays are extremely popular.
As in the case of the television production, the radio play will also be broadcast by a range of state-owned and private radio stations in the four countries, and is consequently guaranteed to reach an audience in the millions.
At the end of the radio play the addresses of local AIDS prevention organisations as well as the address from which our brochure can be obtained will be publicised.
The aids prevention brochures
To boost knowledge and improve awareness about AIDS, we are planning to produce a brochure which we will then distribute at the end of our theatrical performances.
Audiences will also be invited to order this following broadcasts of the television production and radio play. This brochure will be drawn up on the basis of already-existing brochures, but will also include a pictorial depiction of the key issues.
It will consequently also enable the illiterate to learn and obtain meaningful information. It is our intention that this will be a 16-page, A6 format, 2-colour brochure, of which at least 20,000 copies are to be produced. The brochure will also specify the local AIDS prevention organisations in the four countries.
If we are able to obtain condoms via local AIDS prevention offices, we will distribute these together with the brochures after the theatre performances.
Combating the stigmatisation and discrimination of those who have been affected by HIV
Exposing prejudices and misconceptions about AIDS
Focusing on the topic of sexuality and the treatment thereof
Preventing further acts of violence which result from fallacies (e.g. that rape heals AIDS)
Raising awareness of the relevant issues amongst all social classes and generations
Disseminating the key issues more effectively and in a playful manner, as well as by involving the audience in the fate of the protagonists
The project is to have a pilot function, and should establish a momentum all of its own
Creating the basis for a theatre play which can then be performed throughout the region of Africa
Ensuring accessibility through theatre, television and radio
Developing self-confidence and strength amongst HIV sufferers with respect to their day-to-day lives
Implementing the piece in a film production for local television stations
Creating a radio play for local radio stations
Roger Nydegger (Switzerland) is the author and director of the piece, and has already realised several theatrical productions in Africa.
Abou Batoe (Burkina Faso/Germany) and Lazare Minoungou (Burkina Faso) are two authors with whom R. Nydegger has collaborated.
The Ghanaian Foundation for Contemporary Art in Ghana is a foundation dedicated to supporting contemporary art and theatre.
The Congress of Cultural Actors of West Africa is a network of different West African cultural groupings and institutions, and will supply some of the actors and actresses.
A number of actors and actresses from Nigeria (with whom we have worked on two occasions in the past in conjunction with Wole-Soyinka productions) will also be working in this production.
NAWAO ACCRA (www.nawao.org) is handling the local organisation
NAWAO ZURICH (www.nawao.org) is developing the concept together with Nawao Accra and will produce the work.
The work will be produced in Accra, Ghana in collaboration with the Foundation for Contemporary Art, and with actors and actresses from Nigeria who are already familiar to us from productions with Wole Soyinka. The play is to be directed by Roger Nydegger.
To ensure that the production has the desired effect and impact on audiences, we will work to high professional standards. The production period is correspondingly long, i.e. two months.
The stage design and the costumes will be created in Accra. Other production activities will be organised jointly by NAWAO Accra and NAWAO Zurich. A successful project will have a pilot function, and will form the basis for a theatre play which can then be performed throughout the region of Africa.
The two-month tour will take us through the four most important English-speaking countries of West Africa, Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone and Liberia. We are planning approx. 80 performances, above all at schools and universities, and where these are available at local theatres and upon request on public squares too.
We will be travelling to these countries because these are most seriously affected. Nigeria has the highest HIV/AIDS rate in West Africa, and recent wars have caused HIV/AIDS rates in Sierra Leone and Liberia to rocket upwards.
In addition to the performances, we will also be distributing a very large number of copies of a brochure which has been developed in conjunction with a local NGO, and will also be handing out condoms. The brochures will contain essential and necessary information about HIV/AIDS, as well as advice for individuals.
Rehearsals: Mid February 2007 to the end of March 2007 in Accra, Ghana (6 Weeks)
Tour: April 2007 in Lagos, Ibadan and Benin City, Nigeria (2 weeks)
April 2007 in Accra and Kumasi, Ghana (2 weeks)
May 2007 in Monrovia and Buchanan, Liberia as well as in
Freetown and Shenge, Sierra Leone (total 4 weeks)