The Measles Monster
See Newsletter 86 about fighting vaccine hesitancy, where this presentation is discussed.
This short participatory street skit was enacted by a group of Nicaraguan brigadistas de salud (community health activists) during a training course in “Methods of health education for change” in May 1982, during the period that new Sandinista health ministry (MINSA) was seeking to gain enthusiastic people’s participation in improving the overall health of newly liberated country. The course—facilitated by a group of village health workers from the Sierra Madre of western Mexico—took place at the time of a major countrywide vaccination campaign against the immunizable infectious diseases of childhood. The ministry had launched a country-wide vaccination campaign. Just as the Trump administration downplayed the dangers of Covid 19 and undermined confidence in vaccines in the US, this groundbreaking health initiative was being surreptitiously targeted by the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), which had spread rumors that the vaccines would sterilize whoever got them. (The little bottles, the gossip-spreaders pointed out, had printed on them, “agua esterilizada”. So lots of people grew “hesitant”—or worse.) To counter this sabotage the participating brigadistas, as part of our training course, organized a street-theater skit in the central marketplace, recruiting passersby and children as actors.
The skit was called “The Measles Monster”. As there was neither a stage nor a special area for the audience (since people were drawn from all directions by the action and noise of the skit), it was considered strategic that the performance be exaggerated, energetic, and exciting. The utilization of white painted faces, masks and the fearsome display of the Measles Monster caught people’s attention and attracted a curious audience. At first, all the actors were mute, with fixed stares, while a narrator, standing to one side with a microphone, explained the action taking place and sometimes spoke with amplification the words supposedly spoken by the gesticulating actors. This technique was appropriate for street theater because with a microphone the speaker’s narration could be heard above the noise and exclamations of the gathering crowd.
Performance Notes: The whitened faces enable the crowd to recognize who are the key actors in the skit.
Performance Notes: The giant head of the Measles Monster was made quite simply from a cardboard carton, colorfully painted, with long cutout horns glued to it. The huge hands with long, sharp claws were also cut out of cardboard.
Performance Notes: Hidden behind the huge claws, the boy changes masks.
Now the narrator with the loudspeaker approaches the audience and asks: ‘Why did this child get sick with measles?' A few people answer, ‘Because he didn’t get vaccinated.' The narrator says, ‘Can’t hear you. Why do they say that this child got measles?’ More people call out the reply. ‘I still can’t hear you!’, yells the narrator, and repeats, ‘Why do you say that the child got sick with measles?’ Now everyone shouts out loudly: ‘Because he wasn’t vaccinated!’ Then the narrator asks, ‘What should the family do to protect their children?’ And everybody screams ‘Vaccinate them!'
Performance Notes: This part of the skit was unplanned. By this time the kids gathered round were so involved and excited the they took action spontaneously.
Performance Notes: In one such presentation of the skit, the children attacked the monster harshly. The children were astounded when, at the end of the drama, the Monster removed its terrifying mask and they saw that it was the well-loved Catholic nun who had been attacked!
At the end of the presentation, the narrator asks the audience: ‘Why were the children able to defeat the Measles Monster?' Everyone gathered round crys out: ‘Because all the kids were vaccinated!' The performance ends with shouting the slogan:
Note: The idea for this “monstrous” street theater presentation in Nicaragua originally came from New Delhi, India, where health promoters in inner-city neighborhoods enacted a pantomime performance titled “The Monster of Malnutrition.” The impact of this type of drama hinges in large part on audience participation. In this skit in Nicaragua, the children were the most involved and active contingent of those who gathered around to see the eye-catching event.
Video: Measles Monster on YouTube
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