THE ARTS can influence our thoughts and actions in the face of a disease.

The Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA)is closing its 52nd theater season with Rody Vera’s anthology drama Under My Skin, from Feb. 7 to March 22 at the PETA Theater Center as part of its Acting on HIV campaign. The show is done in partnership with LoveYourself and The Red Whistle.

UNAIDS country director Dr. Louie Ocampo stressed that the Philippines is the country with the fastest growing HIV epidemic in the world. UNAIDS said the Philippines had an estimate of 70,000 cases at the end of 2018.

“We have always believed in the power of theater to convey important messages to the audience. Theater is a platform that can spark conversation and reflective thinking and action,” PETA Executive Director Beng Santos-Cabangon said at the press launch on Dec. 2 at the PETA Theater Center.

“In the past, PETA has been successful in tackling sensitive topics through theater. Since the early 2000s, PETA has been active in mobilizing and forging strategic partnerships to help further advocacy work,” PETA Artistic Director Maribel Legarda was quoted as saying in a press release. “We believe that theater can be another approach to HIV awareness, be an effective means of public engagement, introspection, and action.”

Under My Skin is an anthology of stories about Filipinos living with HIV. The stories were based and gathered from the playwright’s friends and relatives, HIV advocates, existing studies on HIV, doctors, and health practitioners.

Playwright Rody Vera intended for the story “to address the misconceptions, the fears, as well as the opportunities for correcting these.”

In a press release, he is quoted as saying “I decided to write in multiple stories that will somehow mirror the overwhelming increase of HIV cases. And yet nobody seems to be as alarmed, thinking that it’s just a ‘gay’ disease.”

The story centers around Dr. Gemma Almonte, an epidemiologist at the Department of Health, who is studying the spread of HIV in the Philippines and hopes to change public perception of the disease and increase society’s compassion for those who have it.

The cases she discusses are those of Dino, a DOTA player who is diagnosed HIV positive after he contracts tuberculosis; Mary Rose, who discovers that her young son contacted a gastro-intestinal infection from the HIV that she passed on to him, after she herself was infected by her husband; and a gay beauty parlor employee who sues his employer for discriminating against those with HIV.

Under My Skin addresses not only the nature of the disease but also how society views it, their perceived carriers, and the patients,” Mr. Vera says in the release. “It covers medical, political, social and economic factors. It even covers religious and moral issues. Dealing with HIV is not just about dealing with the virus alone.”

Directed by Melvin Lee, the play stars Cherry Pie Picache and Roselyn Perez who alternate in the role of Dr. Almonte. Also performing are Eko Baquial, Miguel Almendras, Mike Liwag Gio Gahol, Anthony Falcon, Gold Villar-Lim, She Maala, Mico Esquivel, Bene Manaois, Lotlot Bustamante, Kitsi Pagaspas, Dylan Talon, Ekis Gimenez, Erold Enriquez, Jarred Jaicten, Joseph Madriaga, Jason Barcial, and Dudz Teraña; with Rachelle Gimpes, Reggie Ondevilla, Roy Dahildahil, and Csai Habla in the ensemble.

There will be discussions with HIV doctors, health practitioners, and representatives from LoveYourself and The Red Whistle after the shows.

“One strength of the material we wish to emphasize is the spectrum of the age and gender that is affected by the epidemic. It demystifies the preconceived notions [about it],” director Mr. Lee said in a mixture of English and Filipino.

On the days of the performances, audience members can avail of free HIV screening at the theater lobby, and view the Under My Skin photo exhibit by The Red Whistle, done in collaboration with photographer Niccolo Cosme of the Project Headshot Clinic. The exhibit features 200 portraits of people from the theater industry who are HIV/AIDS advocates. Meanwhile, PETA’s official Facebook page will feature a series of informative videos called EduSeries about stories of people living with HIV.

“It’s really essential that education and awareness is supported and pushed because that’s where we begin to find the solution to the problem,” PETA Artistic Director Maribel Legarda said.

“Fear always happens when we don’t know what’s happening. But once we do, we are then armed with a way to deal with the issues in front of us.”

There will be performances from February 7 to March 22 (Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdaysand Sundays at 3 and 8 p.m.) at the PETA Theater Center, No. 5 Eymard Drive, Brgy. Kristong Hari, New Manila, Quezon City.

For tickets and show buying inquiries, contact PETA at, or TicketWorld at and 891-9999. — Michelle Anne P. Soliman