Tony Savdié spoke about Guatemala’s Proyecto Payaso – an NGO that uses street theatre and clowning to examine issues such as HIV and AIDS, gender, and stigma.
Guatemalan society is grounded in stigma and discrimination, not just around HIV and AIDS, but in different areas of social identity – particularly for indigenous people. HIV and AIDS are still ‘under the surface’; stigma tends to be attached to personal risk perception and the ‘moral illusion’ of people being more or less ‘innocent’ or ‘guilty’ for their HIV infection.
Over the last six years Proyecto Payaso has found that groups of people trained in theatre techniques and sexual health information can become effective ‘multipliers’ of key messages and promote discussion and greater understanding of the issues.
A key concern for the project is to support people to move from a theoretical, detached understanding of stigma and ‘the need to be nice to people’ to an organic, felt, concrete and convinced understanding. It is important to give the trainees experience in the field – enabling them to interact with and question people living with HIV and AIDS – not just theory.
Using clowns to address stigma has created a number of opportunities:
- it can be a kind of ‘diplomatic immunity’ in communities, as clowns can tell uncomfortable truths at the same time as entertaining
- it can help reach a wide audience with information
- it can combine elements of mass communication (a spectacle in public) with elements of service delivery (condom and educational material distribution etc); and when a clown takes off the make-up s/he can also take on the role of educator
- it can facilitate a process exploring issues further in workshops