Puppet Show with a Difference

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By Dr Sarala Krishnamurthy

As the dust settled and calm descended on the youth audience, I could see 350 pairs of young, eager, curious eyes straining towards the stage on which was a black screen about six feet high. The music started and puppets started speaking, much to the delight and amusement of all.

On Friday Grade 10 learners of David Bezuidenhout had an opportunity to witness a puppet show by Assitej-Namibia, Organization of Theatre for Children and Young People titled, “The Trumpet Player” a short but powerful play of about 40 minutes.

The play depicted three stages in the life of a woman: first as a stylish, hip lady about the town; second as a pregnant woman, and third as an HIV/AIDS infected mother of an infected son.

The play starts with a young man and woman who meet in a club and spend the night with each other leading to the woman falling pregnant. When she appeals to the man for help, she is rejected and she is left literally holding the baby. But what is most devastating for her is the realisation that she has contracted HIV/AIDS because the man she had sex with was infected and did not reveal his HIV status to her.

How she brings up her son who is an innocent victim of this dreadful disease to lead a meaningful life, forms the rest of the play.

A brief, but pleasurable encounter leading to a lifetime of illness, trauma and pain for the participants is clearly delineated through a masterful use of puppets and humans and a juxtaposition of the tragic and comic elements in the play.

The agony of the young woman who discovers that not only is she pregnant but also infected with HIV/AIDS brings home to the audience that there are irresponsible, drunk, young males who are on the prowl and who are only interested in having a good time.

This tragedy is further compounded when her son, a blameless scapegoat is to be told that he also is infected with HIV/AIDS.

The young boy is shattered but decides to take control of his life and eventually becomes a trumpet player. In the final analysis the play is a testimony to the force of love and the potential each individual has to draw strength from within himself to build his own life.

The performance received a tremendous positive response from the 350-strong audience. Initially the antics of the puppets drew a lot of laughs and giggles. But slowly it dawned on them that the theme of the play was a serious one.

In short, this particular play delivers a powerful message of the need for abstention and love and support to people stricken with HIV/AIDS.

While the play captures the essence of the problem with HIV/AIDS, it primarily focuses on relationships and strong familial bonds. In a country like Namibia where many people die of the dreaded disease, where several single parent households exist and deserted orphans are left to fend for themselves, family relationships and the notion of security, stability and belonging that leads to productive individuals is a positive image that should be reinforced through different means.

For many children at an impressionable age, the danger of contracting this disease is far from their minds. They are influenced by TV shows and movies that celebrate materialism and consumer culture.

Without the anchor of a steady income and stability of a family setup many children can go astray. To expect them to read about the dangers of HIV/AIDS and behave in a responsible is a tall order. Therefore ‘The Trumpet Player’ triumphs. In a short time it conveys an eloquent message.

As I left the premises I could see the students excited about the performance, laughing at the antics of the puppets. But underneath all the joviality, the subject matter is one that they will carry home to their families.

I believe that the show is a tremendous success, and the play with its message should travel to different regions of Namibia sensitising school going kids about HIV/AIDS so that they are forewarned and forearmed about “sugar daddies”.

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