The monkey with the message

Engaging plays, like No Monkey Business, ask important questions and teach learners valuable life skills

TEACHING children to make informed decisions and to be aware of the dangers of drugs before they are exposed to them is what No Monkey Business is all about.

This simple but effective puppet show, pitched at six- to 10-year-olds and performed in English, Afrikaans, Zulu, Sotho and Tswana, is a recent addition to the growing menu of edutainment offered by Arepp Educational Trust.

Arepp’s traveling theatre moves from school to school, providing social education through puppetry and drama, on a range of issues from HIV/Aids to sexuality, health, gender and abuse.

The not-always-wise antics of Mac Monkey, the hero of No Monkey Business, show how the learning path is often a difficult one, particularly when strewn with many conflicting messages—to be hip and popular as well as hard-working and successful—which today’s children will certainly relate to. Mac Monkey, a lively, impulsive and impressionable “every boy”, is tempted to take a drug offered by the wily Clarence Crocodile to boost his athletic performance and win the popularity prize.

After a brief episode of manic fun and uncontrollable hysterics, Mac Monkey crashes to the ground, unable to complete his race. He is tempted to take the drug again to restore his wounded pride and alleviate his headache. He finally realises that his friends like Vanda Vulture love him regardless of his successes or failures and learns to see through the tempting offers of Clarence Crocodile. Mac Monkey’s path of trial and error creates a safe space for children to identify with, in an atmosphere of fun and song and under the guidance of his ever-understanding “mother”, Thandi.

The play gives children some easy-to-understand pointers for healthy decision-making without being preachy or precious. It is also interactive, with plenty of audience participation—young viewers are encouraged to share their experiences of taking medicines as well as their thoughts on when and why these should be taken—and there are plenty of opportunities for singing along.

Commented Nthabiseng Movundlela (8): “The play was nice because it teaches us not to take things like drugs and sweets from other people. If somebody just says here’s a Super-C and you take it, maybe it’s not a Super-C, it’s something else. If you take it you might get sick. Mac Monkey wanted to take it because the crocodile made him think he could win. But he didn’t win. He just felt sick and, like, weak. The play tells us, do not take other things from other people. You may feel sick or faint.”

Said six-year-old Alice Johnson: “It was actually very nice. It was helping children understand what taking drugs means. But maybe they needed to put more things in the play to show even younger children about drugs.”

No Monkey Business is one of a number of Arepp productions currently touring schools. For further information or to organise a performance at your school, contact Arepp Educational Trust on (011) 485-4771

—The Teacher/Mail & Guardian, April 10, 2000.



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