MYethioPIA Explores Themes and Awareness of HIV

By Deirdre Sackett

On Monday, Jan. 14, a solo performance titled MYethiOPIA ran in the Kevin P. Mahaney ’84 Center for the Arts. The performance was written and performed by Burlington-born David Schein.

It was based on his experiences forming and directing the Awassa AIDS Education Circus (now called One Love HIV/AIDS Awareness Theater) with a troupe of street kids in Southern Ethiopia.

These children use gymnastics to deliver messages about HIV/AIDS awareness, and promote the idea of safe sex and information about how HIV/AIDS spreads. MYethiOPIA revolved around the events leading up to Schein’s meeting the troupe as well as a “condom riot” that threatens the company.

Schein started out by singing a song about children begging for money in Ethiopia.

As part of the song, the children noted that the cost of his safari boots could buy three months of food. Schein would later bookend his performance with a reprise of this song.

Afterward, Schein painted a picture of one of his circus performances. He was trying to hold off an audience riot when one of his partners threw a handful of condoms into the crowd, causing even more chaos. Schein imagined the horrors of Ethiopian jail should he be convicted of inciting the riot.

In order to give some backstory to the riot, Schein then launched into his story of how he arrived in Ethiopia in the first place.

A theater teacher in the Chicago projects, Schein was offered the Ethiopia gig in 2002 through a circuitous series of events. On his way to Ethiopia, he met up with an old friend in Frankfurt, Germany.

Schein described an odd, almost dreamlike experience where they went to a whorehouse, but nothing came of it.

They then go to Nuremberg and visit the old stadium where Hitler gave his famous speech. Finally, after all this travel, Schein and his German friend head off to Ethiopia.

Upon meeting his troupe, Schein immediately hits it off with the kids, who range in age from five to 18 years old.

They create a show to promote AIDS awareness, complete with karate and flips and a giant puppet called Mr. AIDS.

The children defeat Mr. AIDS by throwing condoms at him, representative of how safe sex and access to testing can help prevent the spread of the disease.

After a couple weeks of rehearsals, the troupe sets off for a large marketplace where they will perform three shows.

The first show turns into the riot mentioned at the beginning of the performance. But after a fortuitous stroke of inspiration, Schein is able to save the show and calm down the audience.

The troupe then moves on to perform the other two shows, and Schein returns to America a few days later. Ever since, Schein has been tied to his troupe and stills stays in communication.

He has seen it undergo changes as old members leave and new members join.

Schein’s performance was earnest and unique. The one-man show combined song, prose and Schein’s own personality.

Though Schein didn’t act out every little detail, it was this vagueness that allowed the imagination to roam. It was easy to imagine Schein holding back rioting audience members, and he made it so easy to visualize his troupe flipping and punching and vanquishing Mr. AIDS.

Schein has performed MYethiOPIA in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Minnesota, Vermont and Chicago. His performance at the College was sponsored by the Department of Theater.

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