Tunis theatre confronts HIV/AIDS
By Jamel Arfaoui for Magharebia in Tunis – 16/12/10
A new play sponsored by Tunisia's National Office for the Family and Population (ONFP) takes direct aim at one of the most taboo topics in Tunisian society. "Dance with the Monkey", which opened to audiences on December 9th in Tunis, deals with some of the mistaken beliefs surrounding the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
With his high professionalism, director Taoufik Jebali managed "to answer most of the questions that are raised inside the Tunisian family about AIDS".
"Through this work, I didn't want to turn into a preacher or a guide. I don't claim that I have a message. However, I have a goal that I want to realise: to answer, with the language of theatre, several questions about AIDS," Jebali said to Magharebia.
Jebali, who also wrote the script of the play, with contributions from a number of young actors and actresses, added: "We don't pay much attention to big names in this work. And what does the word 'big' or 'known' actor mean? This is a work of art, in which we give the opportunity to whoever can play the role in a good way. This is a complicated work of art, through which we wanted to get the topic of AIDS closer to the broad audience, especially as there are still several obstacles impeding us from addressing certain issues, such as AIDS, which a number of people still consider to be non-existent in the first place or that they are nothing but propaganda."
High-tech techniques were used in the play, as well as 3-D scenes. As to its events, they take place in different places. Sometimes, the viewers find themselves inside a hospital, then in an elegant neighbourhood, at a public phone booth, and then in the open where desperate people meet to share ideas about the way each one of them hopes to die.
As to the title of the play, the play producers said: "The monkey here is an imaginary creature that we use to cover up our acts, instincts or sins, or anything else that we can't accept or understand."
"I accepted to take part in the play for several reasons, especially as the topic that the play is addressing is interesting," actress Maha Arfaoui told Magharebia. "More importantly, it's targeting young people. I also find pleasure when the picture becomes mixed with music and funny statements. It's an integrated work of art, and I believe in its importance. Therefore, I'm proud to be part of it."
In 90 minutes of continuous movements, in which the noise of actors gets mixed with sometimes loud music, and rarely with quiet music, a debate is raised among the members of group about the reality of HIV/AIDS, its history, and whether it really exists or is only a myth created by pharmaceutical companies.
In another scene, there is a dispute between the members of one family about the owner of a set of preservative male condoms which one of them has found. Each one denies that the set was his, but at the end, each one just wishes if it was his.
ONFP official Hayet Jedidi said the selection of art to launch an awareness campaign aimed at young people "is one of the communication techniques that ONFP relies on, especially following the previous successes of such a choice, and particularly as we depend on young people to take part in these works of art."
"We've found out that the best way to get our message across is to make young people speak to each others. "'Dance with the Monkey' is not an exception to this rule," Jedidi said, adding that ONFP plans to show the play in many provinces across the country.
Nineteen counselling and screening centres spread across the country offer HIV/AIDS tests free of charge. These centres don't reveal the names of individuals who take the tests, and the supervisors are forbidden from asking for visitors' IDs.
Since their creation in 2007, these centres conducted 14,000 quick tests as of August 2010. According to UNICEF, there were 3,700 people living with HIV in Tunisia in 2007.
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