A new puppet, object, and music spectacle about the politics of global healthcare in Haiti premieres at MIT's Kresge Little Theater for a two-week run from April 9 to 17. "Antiretrovirals and Water Refugees: A Living Newspaper on Haiti" looks at the past, present, and future of Haiti in terms of the politics of global healthcare, as refracted through the work of Paul Farmer's Partners in Health organization and its fight against AIDS. An updating of the 1930s activist docudramas called Living Newspapers, this show combines bunraku-style puppets, shadow theater, giant puppets, toy theater, video and audio sampling, and live brass music to consider the compelling global nexus of culture and history that is Haiti. The production will also feature a series of post-show discussions about Haiti, healthcare, and the history of American political theater.
Directed by MIT guest artist and puppeteer John Bell, "Antiretrovirals and Water Refugees" is produced by MIT's Dramashop, and features puppets designed by Boston puppeteer Sara Peattie of the acclaimed Puppeteers Cooperative. The production's wide-ranging collective of designers and performers includes MIT theater and visual arts students and staff, as well as musicians, artists, and performers from the Boston area.
Just as the 1930s Living Newspapers were an innovative American theater technique that allowed performers and audiences to consider the serious challenges of the Depression in a thoughtful and highly entertaining manner, "Antiretrovirals and Water Refugees" will examine the story of AIDS in Haiti in terms of the larger contexts of Haitian history and international politics, from the stunning complexities of the Haitian Revolution (the only successful slave rebellion in history) to the development of post-plantation agriculture, the United States invasion of 1915 (and its celebrated anti-hero, Smedley Butler), the accession of "Papa Doc" Duvalier, and the violent upheavals of the 1980s -- all of which, as Paul Farmer has pointed out, have had an effect on healthcare. The success of Partners in Health's antiretroviral program in helping Haitians with AIDS survive emerges as a positive sign for the future possibilities of global healthcare; but the persistence of the Haitian spirit, as evidenced in the stories of a Haitian family from the Central Plateau region, is the true hero of the play.
A special feature of the "Antiretrovirals and Water Refugees" performances will be post-show discussions about Haiti, global healthcare, and the 1930s Federal Theater Project. These include the following:
Thursday, April 9: Dr. Sonya Shin, physician volunteer at Partners in Health since 1996, including work in Haiti, Peru and Russia. Dr. Shin will talk about her work with PIH in Haiti's Central Plateau.
Friday, April 10: Professor Hanna Rose Shell, of MIT's Program in Science, Technology, and Society; and the director (with Vanessa Bertozzi) of "Secondhand (Pepe)": a 24-minute tri-lingual film about the materiality of recycled clothes that flow from the United States to Haiti. The film will be shown in its entirety, after which Professor Shell will lead a question and answer session.
Saturday, April 11: Members of RESPE: Ayiti (Research and Engagement Supporting Poverty Elimination in Haiti), who will speak about their partnership with the rural community of Balan, Haiti and the launch of the grassroots community health clinic in Balan this summer.
Wednesday, April 15: Kate Greene, Haiti Finance Manager, Partners in Health.
Thursday, April 16: Susan Quinn, author of "Furious Improvisation: How the WPA and a Cast of Thousands Made High Art out of Desperate Times," a presentation and discussion of historic film and slides from the Federal Theatre Project (sponsored by the Center for Advanced Visual Studies, MIT).
John Bell is a member of the Obie-Award-winning Brooklyn-based theater company Great Small Works, a Fellow at MIT's Center for Advanced Visual Studies, and Director of the Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry at the University of Connecticut. Sara Peattie's designs for Puppeteers' Cooperative puppet spectacles large and small have been a feature of Boston's First Night Parades for many years, and a central element in the creation of community-based spectacles across the United States from Seattle's Bumbershoot Festival to the Lincoln Center Out-of-Doors Festival.