Live theater, digital interaction educate teens on drinking issue

Live theater, digital interaction educate teens on drinking issue
From left: Carlos Dala, Gillian Vicencio, and Luis Reyes, guest artists for the Smashed Project Philippines —SMASHED PH PHOTO

Filipinos consume an average of seven liters of alcohol every year, according to the World Population Review.  While that might appear manageable to many, the Philippine College of Physicians recently presented numbers sufficient to give Filipino parents a nightmare: About 70% of students had their first taste of alcohol at age 14, and many of them actually start indulging in their favorite liquor at 16-17. 

To help cut drinking among minors, the Philippine Educational Theater Association (Peta), in partnership with Collingwood Learning UK and a beverage company, Diageo, is reinvigorating Smashed Project Philippines, a program on alcohol education for teenagers, replacing lectures with live theater and digital role-playing.

Melvin Lee, program director of Peta+ —Live theaterSMASHED PH PHOTO

“Underage drinking is an area of concern,” said Melvin Lee, the program director of Peta+ which handles the audience, partnership and content development side of the theater company that’s more than 50 years old. 

“Smashed PH’s focus is on [drinking’s] causes and consequences, especially on young people,” Lee said.

Virtual storytelling

Jella (Vicencio), 16, “maliksi, palaban, walang inuurangan kahit inuman”, and Miko (Dala), 15, “study hard, play hard. Stock knowledge ang puhunan para may oras sa inuman.” — Live theaterSMASHED PH PHOTO

The program taps a virtual storytelling approach that puts young program users right in the center of the narrative while giving them access to familiar digital tools they deftly use. 

In a short walk-through of Smashed PH during a recent press conference, the students picked their characters from a short interactive film they were invited to watch. 

The protagonists, all below 18, are relatable, struggling with situations that cut close to home. 

One of them is an athletic scholar who must choose between all-night study or hanging out with the gang (barkada). Another is a migrant worker’s son who dropped out of school and uses his aunt to get liquor from the neighborhood sari-sari store. Still another is caught between living up to his parents’ expectations and becoming independent from them. 

A Smashed PH program user does not simply watch the film but can choose the next step the character will take, which can either lead to alcohol addiction or freedom from it. 

“We ask the young people what they would do in that situation, and present stories and scenarios they can relate to,” said Smashed project creator Chris Simes. “We don’t shield young people from reality, but we don’t scare them with shock tactics.”

Going global

PJ (Ruiz), 17: “matinik, madiskarte, walwal master!” —Live theaterSMASHED PH PHOTO

Simes started the program in the United Kingdom years ago by talking to young audiences he wanted to educate and empower. He and his team dug deep into their drinking issue—attitudes and motivations, reasons for indulgence or avoidance, factors that could make them change their first choice, and the fallout, both good and bad, from those decisions.

This joint conversation-research has become global as Smashed spreads out to other countries. The video, message, characters and storyline should represent the specific community it is reaching out to. 

“We work with local partners to develop the content. Peta developed the film content with its cultural changes,” Simes said. “The young people … must feel that they are watching something about themselves and their lives.”

Smashed Project Philippines also prepares the audience for the commonplace: a friend or family member offering them their first glass of alcohol long before they graduate from high school. 

“They recognize that situation because they have seen it and know that they have a choice,” Simes said. “They have access to information and understand the social dynamics and peer pressure happening to them, and make their own independent decision about alcohol.”

Live performances

Chris Simes, project creator —SMASHED PH PHOTO

The second component of Smashed PH banks on Peta’s decadeslong experience in live performance and drama education: a work-in-progress pilot with limited performances that allows 40-50 students to participate face to face. It was designed to be implemented in a classroom setting because it acts as a follow-up to the students interacting in the virtual platform.

Lee described the 40-minute activity as “a follow-up to the film but is now focused on prevention.” He added: “The website tells us about the consequences of going into drinking. The sustaining program will tackle how to prevent it. It is Philippine-led and will be conducted in the network of schools we developed the past year.”

Peta partnered with Collingwood Learning in 2020 to launch Smashed PH. During the past 10 months, it has reached all 17 regions in the Philippines, and connected with 17,700 young people and 675 educators. 

This year, Peta has a target of 40,000 students, signing memorandums of understanding with offices of the Department of Education in Manila, Quezon City, Caloocan, San Juan and Makati.

Out of the 9,900 young persons evaluated after undergoing the program, around 93% had an “attitudinal change,” it said, referring to their statements that they would rethink their choices if they were offered alcohol.

Simes called Smash PH a “rehearsal for real life.” 

“When real life happens, they can make themselves, their friends, and their future safe,” he said.

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