Young people act out a flash-theater scene
Surrounded by their audience in a spacious room, a dozen young people dressed in black perform flash theater: a boy hands a bouquet of flowers to a girl; two girls embrace while a boy looks on in disgust; a girl hands a condom to a boy who pushes it away.
Each is a microcosm of the relationships these young people grapple with. Their performances are designed for other adolescents to recognize and reflect on patterns of love and control at this critical age.
The theater project is part of The Campaign to Live and Love in Freedom by Grupo Venancia, a feminist organization based in Matagalpa, Nicaragua.
Domestic violence is widespread in Nicaragua, where a weak justice system, underfunded police, and machista attitudes make women vulnerable to abusive relationships. While Grupo Venancia also provides assistance to women in crisis, the campaign is designed to prevent abuse at the age when young people begin exploring romantic relationships.
It also aims to open a dialogue about gender roles and sexuality. A central theme of the campaign is the importance of loving oneself first: the tagline says, “I’m not a ‘better half,’ I’m a whole.”
As a volunteer with another of Grupo Venancia’s projects, I caught a performance to find out more about the campaign.
The flash pieces carried an emotional weight beyond their simple staging: the actors’ facial expressions and gestures in each mini-scene conveyed shame, distrust, fear, and hope. Scattered in pairs and groups of three around the space, the actors repeated their scenes at intervals, their gestures and phrases becoming familiar to the audience.
Throughout the performance, the adult facilitator, Itzel Fajardo, asked the audience for their responses. “Which image impacted you most?”
The young audience identified scenes of control, like a boy checking his girlfriend’s cell phone, or discrimination. They also responded with connections to their own lives.
In a longer piece, volunteers from the audience stepped into a scene to replace the actor, offering their suggestions about how to change an action from controlling or passive to healthy and communicative.
Teens act out a controlling relationship
The dozen young people in the theater group range in age from 16 to 20 and come from various rural and urban communities in Matagalpa.
They performed in nine communities over a period of eight months, bringing the campaign to schools in the urban center of Matagalpa as well as isolated communities on the edge of the roadless Caribbean region.
Their preparation started almost a year ago with theater workshops and discussions led by adult facilitators from Venancia.
They used their own experiences as boyfriends, girlfriends, sons, daughters, and friends to create the stories they presented to peers.
Tania Meza, a 16-year-old in the troupe, says she’s inspired by the reactions of the audience. “I want the audience to say, wow, I lived that, too. I want them to respond with their own feelings.”
Irma Mendez, who’s 19, shares that her participation in the theater group helped her end an unhealthy relationship. “It’s been incredible, excellent. We’ve been able to share our experiences and feelings and to reflect on them together.”
Fajardo, one of the designers of the campaign, worked with the teens throughout the process. “Our goal wasn’t exactly to change attitudes, more to raise awareness. And in that we’ve surpassed our goal, because of the changes we’ve seen” in the theater group.
For the boys, it was their first time reflecting on sexuality and gender roles. “The process was really important for them. Some were pretty machista at the beginning, but the reflection helped them make great strides.”
The changes were just as critical for the girls in the group, some of whom have been in abusive relationships. Fajardo says now they talk about creating healthy boundaries in their relationships.
She sees that the teens have been deeply impacted by the knowledge that their stories are helping other young people. “Now they see themselves as activists for change.”
For the audiences, she says, the process is “like giving them special glasses, and suddenly, they can see their reality and reflect on it.”
Audience members react to the theater performance