Diabetes prevention theatre workshop: Make the right choice
When 16-year-old Claire shouts out to the audience in a fury of confusion, “I really hope I make the right choice,” tears well up in my eyes. Although I have seen countless rehearsals of Make the Right Choice, her portrayal of a young girl debating different food choices and activity styles is a powerful and effective one. Claire was one of 16 students from R.B. Russell Vocational High School in Winnipeg, Manitoba, who created Make the Right Choice, a diabetes prevention theatre workshop performed in February 2002 to over 1,500 students in grades 4 – 6.
The idea that grew into Make the Right Choice came to me one day in August 2000 while reading a story about diabetes prevention. I work as a Community Nutritionist in the Point Douglas area of Winnipeg’s inner city. Point Douglas has the highest Aboriginal population, the highest poverty rates and the highest percentage of type 2 diabetes in the city of Winnipeg. Worst yet, diagnosis of type 2 diabetes in children in Manitoba is increasing at an alarming rate. I thought, “Wouldn’t it be great to put on a play about diabetes prevention and present it in all the schools in Point Douglas?” I wanted to offer nutrition education in an entertaining yet thought-provoking style, and I wanted the message to come from the inner city Aboriginal children in their words, not mine. After several attempts with different organizations, I saw a newspaper article about a group of students from the R.B. Russell award-winning Community Action Program. With the leadership of teacher Jay Willman, students respond to a community issue by creating a play. Later, in a workshop session, they identify barriers to and solutions for the issue at hand.
As partners with Manitoba Theatre for Young People (MTYP), a large, child– focussed theatre company, we secured funding from the Winnipeg Foundation. Then we went into action-community action, that is. What a privilege and learning experience it was to work with such professional teachers as Jay and his colleagues, Gaeta Shaw and Robyn Traill. “We make theatre very interactive,” Jay told one of several media outlets that reported on Make the Right Choice. “We ask a lot of questions and expect an answer night away. We want the actors to create a feeling that everyone matters” (Prokosh, 2002).
The performance and workshop turned out to be everything I could have hoped for. The students created four entertaining scenes designed to involve and excite the grade 4-6 audiences while delivering important messages. For example, one of the scenes was a humorous play on the words “fast food,” with an apple and a French fry boasting like professional wrestlers about which truly was the “fastest food.” Another scene was a mock game show, complete with a fast-talking host, called “What’s Going to Happen to Your Body?” in which contestants competed for a healthy life. In the concluding scene, a group of teens talked about their dreams in life, then fell under the spell of the “Junk Food Demons” and gradually lost their way, before finding the strength to reclaim their lives by following the path of the eagle.
After the scenes, the performers led audiences to school gyms for large and small group games and small group discussions around three questions of healthy lifestyle. Workshops concluded back in the theatre where audience members presented their ideas on staying healthy. Over 18 performances, 1,500 children working in small groups generated 971 answers to the three challenge questions: “What can you do to eat healthy?” “What can you do to stay active?” and “How can you help others stay on the path of the eagle?”
Make the Right Choice wasn’t just a positive experience for the audiences, it was a great learning experience for the 16 Community Action Program students at R.B. Russell who put the workshop and performance together. In preparation, we did nutrition education workshops using a variety of approaches. The R.B. Russell students polished their leadership skills and developed confidence; several of them got jobs at MTYP afterward. “It’s been kind of a practice what you preach [approach],” said student John Donovan. “Now I’m more aware of what I eat and how much I eat. When we started, I didn’t know the people most at risk were Native people… Oh my gosh, I better get active and start eating better” (Timlick, 2002). Ultimately, the success of the project will be the messages taken in by the young audience members. Competing with the power of roundthe-clock advertising by the junk food industry isn’t easy, but the magnitude of responses from the children to the three challenge questions show that Make the Right Choice inspired them to think about their own choices.
Reprinted (edited for length) with permission from Diabetes Quarterly (Summer 2002), Canadian Diabetes Association 2002.
Prokosh K. Stage is the place to battle diabetes in kids. Winnipeg Free Press. February 28, 2002.
Timlick J. R.B. Russell students deliver healthy message. Winnipeg Times. February 27, 2002.
Rosemary Szabadka RD
Copyright Dietitians of Canada Fall 2002
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