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BODY ARMOUR is an educational theatre work created under the partnership between the Victorian Department of Health, Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation, Hepatitis Victoria  and ILBIJERRI Theatre. The work communicates the importance of prevention of Hepatitis C from a uniquely Indigenous perspective. BODY ARMOUR premiered in 2010 and has toured every year since. BODY ARMOUR has reached over 9,500 people and performed in 140 venues across Australia, from remote community centres, maximum security prisons and metropolitan secondary schools.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are significantly more likely than the rest of the population to contract Hepatitis C. This is largely due to the disproportionate amount of incarcerated Indigenous people and the more frequent use of injectable drugs. Compounding these statistics are many cultural, socioeconomic and environmental factors that impact on an Indigenous person’s capacity to gain access to formal medical services and resources. For example, many standard communication tools of sexual health education do not take into account Indigenous cultural differences and literacy barriers. Many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders consider talking about sex to be shameful, particularly when discussing (sensitive) issues. Also, with high percentages of unemployment and welfare dependency, many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in Victoria either cannot afford or believe they cannot afford contraception and/or medical advice. Location is also a major barrier to sexual health for Indigenous Victorians. With more than half living in regional and remote locations, they have limited access to health care and health resources.

1. Present an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander theatre show that raises awareness of hepatitis C issues within the Indigenous community;
2. Deliver performances in culturally appropriate community settings;
3. Develop relationships between community members and health agencies using theatre as a platform; and
4. Promote and market the show using culturally appropriate methods and channels.

The Partnership
Each party brings its unique knowledge, skills and positioning into play within this project. ILBIJERRI Theatre manages the creative and technical aspects of the play and its production. This includes the writing of the play, direction, dramaturgy, acting, technical production and touring, revisions to the play, stage and technical direction.

Hepatitis Victoria provides knowledge and checks the clinical accuracy of the production. Their Koorie Educator sits on the reference group and contributes their expertise as an advocate for people with Hepatitis C.

VACCHO provide invaluable resources to support the tour of the production such as pamphlets, affordable contraception, information on local health services and link the production with the local health worker in each place the show how the tours ‘break the ice’ between the audience and the local health services.

The Victorian Department of Health is the commissioning body; funding the development of the production and the Victorian tours. The Department of Health also set the policy context and the ‘messaging’.

The Production
The production clearly raises awareness of Hepatitis C from a uniquely Indigenous perspective, featuring protagonists that are openly Aboriginal and share their stories with reference to their cultural background. The production has been designed to be highly transportable so that it could go beyond traditional theatrical settings to reach audiences that would otherwise not have access to the theatre.

With the help of VACCHO, local health workers were available for post-show discussion at each venue, connecting Aboriginal health workers directly with the target demographic. This builds trust and breaks down misconceptions about accessibility.

In addition, Hepatitis Victoria and the Victorian Department of Health engaged key local health and community organisations to help spread the message about the show, thereby, ensuring that this marketing is done appropriately.

Evaluation of the production to date is based mainly on qualitative information generated primarily from audience feedback and anecdotal evidence from the touring party and venue management.

An example of typical feedback from the audience:
“Thank you for a fantastic show. The performance was engaging for our students. They all watched 100% of the time without distraction. You have made them more aware of a serious issue and health concern. This is so important given the popularity of piercing at the moment.” Teacher from Kurnai College.

Further evaluation will be undertaken at the end of 2013 to align with the end of the productions touring.

What’s next for the partnership?
This is not the first time that this four-way partnership has been awarded for its innovative approach. In 2005 the partnership created CHOPPED LIVER, a work focused on the importance of prevention, diagnosis and treatment of Hepatitis C. This work toured nationally for three years, reaching over 10,000 people. One of the most significant achievements was the provision of information in an accessible way to a primarily Indigenous audience, some of whom cannot read health promotion material. In 2008, this show was awarded an Indigenous Community Justice Award for its outstanding contribution towards improved social justice for the Koorie Community in the Enforcement Initiative, as well as the prestigious Secretary’s Award at the 2008 Victorian Public Healthcare Awards for keeping people well in the community.

This highly successful partnership is now developing the third production in the series, THE BIGGEST DAY OUT. The new production will focus on sexually transmissible infections more broadly, unplanned pregnancies and respectful sexual relationships. This new production will hit the road for its debut tour in 2014.

BODY ARMOUR, and the partnership between ILBIJERRI Theatre, Hepatitis Victoria, VACCHO and the Department of Health (Victoria), was awarded the 2013 Victorian State Creative Partnerships Arts and Health Award and was one of six finalists for the National Award announced in November 2013. The Institute for Creative Health is proud to partner with Creative Partnerships Australia in the development and delivery of this Award.

Contact for more information:
Julia Valentini
Development Manager
Phone: 03 9329 9097