Human Immunodeficiency Virus or HIV, when acquired, may lead to AIDS. One cannot get it from mosquito bites, this is made clear in Philippine Educational Theater Association’s (PETA) HIV-awareness-centered production “Under My Skin.”
text and photos by Marz Aglipay
The lack of awareness on HIV has led to a number of misconceptions, one of them being that virus is exclusive to gay-identifying individuals and sex-workers. In effect, those who are afflicted with the virus treat it like death-sentence. Despite this, educational-theater is making an effort to dispel the stigma around HIV.
“Under My Skin” is an anthology written by Rody Vera featuring several true-to-life stories that were told to him first hand. Vera writes the story in such a way that it is part-scientific and part-empathetic. It is a timely piece considering that the Philippine is now the number 1 country for rising cases of HIV. This is due in part to the fact that HIV testing is accessible making the detection and treatment of the virus easier.
The anthology offers a variety of HIV-afflicted narratives told by relatable characters who come from different walks of life. These stories range from dramatic to appalling yet interspersed with light-hearted moments.
Each character in “Under My Skin” weave through each other by the narrations of a character inspired by a real doctor. The lead character Dr. Gemma Almonte, portrayed by Cherrie Pie Picache and alternated by Roselyn Perez, is an epidemiologist at the Department of Health who studied the spread of HIV in the Philippines. The inclusion of a character with a medical background is crucial to the play’s endeavor to educate its audience on HIV.
The story makes an effort to address topics related to HIV-awareness that can be taken up in length. Among them are showing how the virus is treatable, what can be done to support people with HIV, as well as acknowledging broader issues pertaining to soceity’s view on sexuality and the treatment of the disease.
Director Melvin Lee says “The play puts emphasis to the spectrum of the age [and] gender affected by the epidemic. [This production] aims to provide an opportunity [for] dialogue about the topic.”
Vera’s piece may come across as provocative to a widely Catholic audience. HIV awareness is not just a matter of reviewing safe-sex practices but more importantly, this production draws attention to the importance of building a community that can provide support for people living with HIV.
As part of PETA’s effort to merge HIV-awareness into the production, they have partnered with institutions such as LoveYourself PH, who will provide free HIV testing on-site for those who want to get tested. In addition, there are talk-backs after each show under the guidances of a health professional to answer HIV related questions.
For “Under My Skin” PETA transforms into a platform to start conversations on HIV-awareness as it is needed now, more than ever.
“Under My Skin” runs until March 22, 2020 at the PETA Theater Center, No. 5 Eymard Drive, Brgy. Kristong Hari, New Manila, Quezon City. For tickets go to www.ticketworld.com.ph, 891-9999, www.petatheater.com/undermyskin.