Film about the Actors & Doctors project | Actors & Doctors 2017

Project Overview

The Natya Shastra, an ancient Indian treatise on theatre written around 140 BC, argues that the main aim of theatre should be to educate whilst entertaining. This belief is central to the Actors & Doctors: Staging Public Health Matters project.

The project aimed to increase awareness of and engagement with complex public health concerns such as mental, environmental and sexual health. Implemented in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India, by the Darpana Academy of Performing Arts, the project also aimed to examine the effectiveness of cross-disciplinary collaborative frameworks by bringing together doctors, public health professionals and actors in a creative environment.

Ambitions

The project aimed to bridge the gap between public health research and the community it serves. A three-way learning process was developed to serve this aim:

  • For doctors, researchers and public health professionals to learn creative, innovative public engagement strategies

  • For artists to work directly with doctors, researchers and public health professionals to develop a stronger understanding of public health issues and how best to portray them

  • For audiences to engage with relevant health issues, and to be empowered to take preventative action

Image: Actors & Doctors 2017

Approach

Initially, a core group of doctors and public health professionals were established to take part in the project, before theatre practitioners were invited to take part.

Once the full group had been established, the project began with a two-day workshop focusing on theories and principles of health communication and public engagement. Activities during this workshop  focused on enabling artists to understand public health as a theme for producing theatre, and to address the growing debate within the research community around involving the public in research.

Participants also took part in an all-day theatre workshop to learn theatrical techniques and developed plans for their scripts and performances.

Following the inception workshop, participants went away to complete creation of  their theatre pieces, and two months later, the project culminated in a festival. The five performances created during and after the workshop were performed in a number of specially selected locations across the area, including schools for different faiths, a community of displaced and homeless people, the university and at public locations within the city. Feedback was collected from the audiences for evaluation.

Image: Actors & Doctors 2017

Interviews, questionnaires and surveys were done of audience members, actors, doctors and others involved in the project. Feedback was largely positive, with many feeling that it should not be a one-off project, but should be repeated periodically, and in other locations around Gujarat. Some audience members spoke to actors involved in the plays after the performances to open up about their own health problems, and sought further information and help.

The project co-ordinators now hope to scale this project up to a national level, bringing in more agencies and bodies to help organise the programme.

Project Lead and Partners

Actors & Doctors: Staging Public Health Matters was lead by Dr Kartik Sharma, founder of Public Arts Health & Us (PAHUS), an initiative aiming to facilitate creative communication-based projects. It was co-lead by Dr Mallika Sarabhai, director of the Darpana Academy of Performing Arts, an NGO that seeks to use art to inform, educate and transform. The workshops were co-run by the Centre for Community Change and Dialogue, and a number of medical doctors and public health professionals were involved in the development of the workshops and the subsequent pieces of theatre. The project was funded by the Wellcome Trust/DBT India Alliance (India Alliance),  a public charity registered in India, funded equally by the Wellcome Trust and the Government of India's Department of Biotechnology (DBT). The charity aims to promote basic biomedical, clinical and public health research in India through funding and engagement.

 Image: Actors & Doctors 2017

 

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