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PETA Theater Center
No.5 Eymard Drive
New Manila, Quezon City
Under My Skin is an anthology of multiple stories about Filipinos living with HIV gathered from their friends and relatives, HIV advocates, existing studies on HIV, doctors, and health practitioners.
The story revolves around Dr. Gemma Almonte, who is an epidemiologist at the Department of Health. She was studying the spread of HIV in the Philippines. She re-worded the existence of "gay" people into "men who have sex with men" as the local government had been subtly denying the existence of their sexuality.
Her research had shown that there was a 90% spike in the number of HIV cases among men who had sex with men along with a steady rise of mother-to-child transmissions.
One case is the story of Dino, a persistent DOTA player, who found that he was HIV positive through a contraction of tuberculosis. His mother discovered the unspeakable practices of her son and also learned that not only was HIV a family issue, but a community issue, and should be solved as such.
Next is the story of Mary Rose, who discovers that her young son had an HIV-related gastro-intestinal infection. She learns that she had passed down the virus and had contracted it from her husband.
The last story is about a flamboyant gay beauty parlor employee who was suing his employer for discriminating against those with HIV. We hear about partners who delve in unsafe sex, work-related discrimination, and people who start inflicting the stigma onto themselves. They begin contemplating suicide instead of pursuing treatment if it meant inexposure to the public eye.
The rate of HIV-related cases progressively increasing in the Philippines, abetted by the stigma, lack of resources, prevailing misconceptions, ignorance from several government and religious institutions, and the absence of an effective strategy.
Dr. Gemma's prediction of the future is bleak and her only hope is a change in public perception, an increase in compassion, and a society afflicted not with ignorance and prejudice, but with compassion and understanding.
PETA, THE RED WHISTLE AND LOVEYOURSELF
JOIN FORCES FOR HIV ADVOCACY
QUEZON CITY, Philippines – The Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA) draws its 52nd Theater Season to a close by responding to an issue that has long been met with silence: the HIV epidemic in the Philippines. Together with esteemed HIV advocacy organizations The Red Whistle and LoveYourself, PETA launches the Acting on HIV campaign with Rody Vera’s anthology drama Under My Skin, directed by Melvin Lee, as the frontliner.
The Acting on HIV campaign reaches out to audiences through an immersive experience that promotes treatment and awareness on HIV, debunks myths and misconceptions about the disease, and pushes to eradicate stigma around Persons Living With HIV (PLHIV) through workshops, exhibits, an online EduSeries, and talkbacks with HIV experts back-to-back with every show of Under My Skin. PETA also became part of LoveYourself’s annual Mass HIV Screening event, “KYS (Know Your Status) and Play” last November 23, 2019. PETA also participated in The Red Whistle’s annual Project Headshot Clinic in commemoration of World AIDS Day last December 1, 2019.
PETA Executive Director Beng Santos-Cabangon says that it is through this campaign and partnership that various groups can unite and strengthen their cause. “PETA believes that by using the arts as a medium, Under My Skin and other advocacy-oriented activities can become an effective platform for probing, conversations, and a coming-together of various HIV experts and advocates,” says Santos-Cabangon. “It is through this safe space that we aim to humanize the HIV issue that has long become taboo in our society.”
As the cases of HIV rise in the country, UNAIDS initiated 90-90-90 – a new target for HIV treatment by 2020: 90% of all people living with HIV will know their HIV status; 90% of all people with diagnosed HIV infection will receive sustained antiretroviral therapy; 90% of all people receiving antiretroviral therapy will have viral suppression. Likewise, PETA and its partners now use the stage as a platform to advance the HIV advocacy and tap into larger networks. PETA Artistic Director Maribel Legarda says that partnering up with LoveYourself and The Red Whistle is in line with keeping PETA’s commitment to take an active role in using the arts for education and advocacy. “In the past, PETA has been successful in tackling sensitive topics through theater. Since the early 2000’s, PETA has been active in mobilizing and forging strategic partnerships to help further advocacy work,” says Legarda. “We believe that theater can be another approach to HIV awareness, be an effective means of public engagement, introspection, and action.”
While LoveYourself and The Red Whistle both employ their own particular approaches to the HIV issue, the Acting on HIV campaign gives the opportunity to collaborate. LoveYourself’s response to the HIV epidemic has always entailed a holistic approach that covers education, prevention, testing, and treatment. “The arts can act as a bridge for people in the midst of crisis,” says LoveYourself founder and executive director Ronivin Pagtakhan. “The country has been testing approximately 35 individuals with an HIV infection per day, and this number gives us two related perspectives: The cases are rising but we are reaching more people to get tested and initiate their treatment. These situations call for more awareness. The arts, particularly theater, can come into play.” According to Pagtakhan, “It’s been part of our people's discussions, and we should take advantage of it as a bridge to the HIV advocacy, and enable people to act on it.”
In similar fashion, The Red Whistle responds to the HIV epidemic by addressing the need for a change in mindset. “Theater has the ability to move people to understand the issue more. We need to shift perspectives around HIV-related stigma and change attitudes towards our sexual health,” says The Red Whistle president Benedict Bernabe. “If we want to change people’s minds, we need to tug on their heartstrings first. This is why the arts is an important and necessary component, not just for awareness and education, but also for behavior change in the HIV advocacy.”
Acting on HIV’s frontliner, Under My Skin is also supported by UNAIDS and Unilab. The play features the following cast: Cherry Pie Picache, Roselyn Perez, Eko Baquial, Miguel Almendras, Mike Liwag, Gio Gahol, Anthony Falcon, Gold Villar-Lim, She Maala, Mico Esquivel, Bene Manaois, Lotlot Bustamante, Kitsi Pagaspas, Dylan Talon, Ekis Gimenez, Erold Enriquez, Jarred Jaicten, Joseph Madriaga, Jason Barcial, Dudz Teraña, Rachelle Gimpes, Reggie Ondevilla, Roy Dahildahil, and Csai Habla.
With the play and the rest of the activities brought by the campaign, PETA and its partners hope to reach out to more PLHIV, recruit more advocates, and promote treatment and testing among Filipinos. Science and medicine prove that there is indeed a way to manage the disease – The true culprit, then, of the worsening cases of HIV in the Philippines is not the virus itself, but the lack of education and the stigma revolving around the issue.
The Acting on HIV campaign launched this October 2019 leading up to PETA’s 52nd Theater Season finale, Under My Skin from February 7 to March 22, 2020 (Fridays at 8:00pm, Saturdays/Sundays at 3:00pm and 8:00pm) at the PETA Theater Center, #5 Eymard Drive, Brgy. Kristong Hari, New Manila, Quezon City.
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