How it started: My Theater in Karakert
In 2012, COAF’s Child and Family Support Team launched a novel project called Psychological Theater. They were looking for a way to help rural children overcome shyness, low self-esteem and various other self-image obstacles.
With the envisioning of Psychological Theater as an art therapy project, COAF designed the program to empower children through the art of theater, giving kids the confidence to reach their full potential through performance and creative expression.
The first installment, targeted to teenagers, launched in Karakert in the Armavir region. Some participants were from underprivileged families while others struggled with psychological challenges.
In two years, this inaugural cohort, “My Theater in Karakert” produced two performances and toured to stages across Armenia. Not only did they perform for their school, but they also reach audiences at youth theater festivals, the TUMO campus and the Cafesjian Museum.
How it evolved: My Theater in Getashen
In 2015, the COAF theater project moved to Getashen in Armavir, this time developing a program for kids under 12-years-old. The troupe grew to 17 children, was called “My Theater in Getashen.” Their first performance piece was produced by theater director Marine Asatryan. Titled “My Wonderful World,” the play told the story of Naro, a young girl who travels the world, growing and learning about herself along the way.
The Getashen troupe produced more plays, all based on famous fables and folklore. Their most successful performance was a rendition of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince. The kids even adapted and creatively edited the original, inventing a happier ending for the story. The main character was played by two of the troupe’s youngest actors to prove that a little prince “could be a part of every human being.”
How it changed: My Theater in Aragatsavan
The project became so successful that the Child and Family Support Team decided to expand the Psychological Theater project and involve more communities.
COAF Psychological Support Subprogram Manager Tamara Harutyunyan and theater director Marine Asatryan shared more about why they decided to expand the project.
“After long discussions, we decided to launch a theater group with the involvement of children with disabilities in Aragatsavan, Aragatsotn region. The aim was changing the attitude towards children with disabilities by integrating them into various activities, contributing to a more tolerant community, eliminating prejudice against people with special needs.”
In March 2016, the COAF team in Aragatsavan gathered a group of kids of every age for a new play. Marine Asatryan wrote the script, titled Let’s Be Friends, and started rehearsing in one of the local schools. This started the newest of COAF’s theater programs, My Theater in Aragatsavan.
It was a fully inclusive theater troupe, welcoming children with cerebral palsy and various other disabilities to participate and perform.
At opening night, the school’s auditorium was filled with students, teachers, parents, and guests. Before the play, most in the audience didn’t know that children with disabilities lived in their community until they saw them shine on the school stage that day, joyfully performing with other children.
After the premiere, many in the audience admitted that the performance had altered their perception of children with disabilities.
A few months after this first performance, the troupe would produce a rendition of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, by Lyman Frank Baum. They performed at the Yerevan Chamber Theater on December 3rd, the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. Today, the group from Aragatsavan is rehearsing Oscar Wilde’s The Birthday of the Infanta.
How it continues to make a change
What started as a theater project aimed at nurturing young self-esteem grew into a program that chipped at widespread stigma associated with childhood disabilities.
“Due to this project, people are learning to treat persons with disabilities as their equals, not with pity,” said Tamara Harutyunyan. “It’s a very important mindset change that COAF has been aiming at.”
Psychological Theater gave children with different abilities the opportunity to imagine and create, bringing them to the stage when they were otherwise sidelined.
Not only has COAF’s theater project embraced and celebrated children with disabilities, but the program has also transformed the mindsets of entire villages, making that transformation the true psychological theater to behold.