Philippine theater

How PH theater helps address underage drinking among youth

Sydney Cañamo

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How PH theater helps address underage drinking among youth
The project by Smashed and PETA-Plus has engaged 18,000 young Filipinos, and counting! 

MANILA, Philippines – Now in its sophomore year, Smashed Philippines continues to empower the youth to make informed decisions about underage drinking through art and theater. 

According to a forum hosted by the Philippine College Physicians, 70% of students drink alcohol before they reach the age of 14. Together with the Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA-Plus) and beverage company Diageo, Smashed aims to address underage drinking by spreading knowledge about its possible risks.

In a virtual press conference, the initiative’s proponents share more about their unique storytelling-based approach, their achievements over the previous year, and upcoming projects.

“We want to raise the awareness of young people on the possible effects of underage alcohol consumption and equip them [students] with facts, skills, and confidence to make responsible choices as youth,” shared Smashed PH Project Manager Gold Lim in the press conference on Friday, August 19.

‘Rehearsal for real life’

One of the main projects of Smashed is their interactive website where young audiences can follow a film about three teenagers and their encounters with alcohol. Much like Black Mirror’s Bandersnatch, Smashed Online involves the viewers in the storyline by choosing actions and dialogues that lead to a butterfly effect of consequences in the narrative. 

Instead of using the usual shock tactics in most alcohol education materials, Smashed offers a refreshing and relatable experience for the youth. Creator Chris Simes believes that this is why the initiative is so effective. With the creative direction of PETA-Plus, the template storyline of Smashed was localized into the Philippine context, with the interactive film written mostly in Tagalog and inspired by real experiences of the Filipino youth. 

MIKO AND JELLA. Photo courtesy of PETA-Plus

“It’s like turning a mirror on those young people and their own lives…our big focus is around choices, decision making, information, personal responsibility — and then obviously what we then do is guide students through these activities that help them think about ‘What would I do in that situation? What would my choices be?’” Simes shared in the press conference. 

Additionally, Smashed strays from the “don’t do this” approach, but is rather centered on allowing the viewers to build their own attitude towards alcohol. When watching the film, viewers are exposed to the social dynamics and peer pressure that they may eventually encounter.

“What we’re trying to do is to give young people a rehearsal for real life so when real life does happen, they can make the right choice for themselves, to keep themselves safe, keep their friends safe, and obviously keep their future safe,” he added.

The informative content of Smashed Online was adapted from its live theater version, which Simes developed in the United Kingdom circa 2004. This award-winning play spread across 22 countries worldwide and has reached over a million youth since then. Due to the pandemic, the interactive site was launched to be accessible to Filipinos just by creating an account. 

Empowering every Juan

The theatrical and interactive components of Smashed have indeed worked their magic. Since launching in the Philippines in September 2021, the project has reached 17 regions, engaged 18,000 students, and networked with 675 educators and 120 schools nationwide. They have also collaborated with the Department of Education (DepEd)-Youth Formation Division in hopes to spread their message to more cities.

In their evaluations in their first year, Smashed reported that 93% of their participants confirmed an attitudinal change towards underage drinking. Berna Joy Corpuz, a Grade 11 student from Tarlac City shared that the project allowed her to reflect on the impact of alcohol in our lives if exposed at a young age.

“It provides us a safe space and cultivates a culture of support system for young people like us to make an empowered choice that will benefit our future,” Corpuz said in a testimony. 

With the success of its first installment, the team will be hopping from schools in a caravan this year to conducting the workshops face to face. Smashed will also hold a webinar series and online essay-writing and video-making competitions, launch their Tiktok, and have live theater-in-education performances. 

For the long haul

While growing its network of partner schools, Smashed Philippines is also planning a follow-up theatrer performance on the prevention of underage drinking to sustain the connections that they’ve built over the past year. 

The team’s aim globally is to reach ten million young people by 2030, hopefully educating 800,000 teenagers internationally and 40,000 in the Philippines by 2022.

“We’re in it for the long haul, we’re not in it to deliver it a one-off. This is about a genuine long-term commitment to young people’s education around alcohol,” Simes assured. 

With the continuous spread of Smashed throughout the country, students aged 10-17 will be able to have alcohol education in their curriculums as early as Grade 5. Not only will they have access to materials, but they can also find support in their fellow youth during these conversations. 

“As experienced po sa Smashed, para kami nagiging open forum lagi ‘pag merong session (we kind of become an open forum when there are sessions) and some people would air out their thoughts, their feelings, about the characters, about their own stories – so para siyang pagsasama-sama ng mga kabataan (it’s like the coming together of the youth),” shared Lim.

Hopefully, the initiative will empower a generation of Filipinos who make wise decisions about alcohol. Truly, art and theater have the power to tackle complex issues in society – and the impact of Smashed is a testimony to that. – 

Sydney Cañamo is a Rappler intern.

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