Congratulations to Joy Iliff on being selected as PEN’s October Educator of the Month! Special thanks to Aoife Healy for her nomination and blog submission.
Joy Iliff is the Founder and Director of Monkeys Acting in Schools for Conservation (MASC). MASC was established in 2010 as part of Joy's master’s degree in Primate Conservation at Oxford Brookes University. This small U.K.-based charity teaches children about conservation issues and environmental responsibility through both theatre and educational workshops. One of the central tenets of MASC is the message of empowerment.
Joy says, ‘“For many people, conservation messages in particular are overwhelming.” Negative messages can leave people feeling powerless and small. MASC endeavours to counteract this. All too often in the U.K., we think of tropical environments and their exploitation as a far off concern. MASC aims to bring these far away habitats closer by promoting the message that every person can have an influence.
Joy has always been passionate about sharing conservation messages. She loves theatre and understands the teamwork that goes into putting on a good show. As a theatre technician, she saw the potential of developing a project that could bring her two loves together. She designed a project that uses the innovative medium of theatre to educate audiences about conservation issues.
Joy has developed three shows, supplementary games, and has some further collaborative projects in the early stages of production. MASC’s first and flagship play, "Save Your Last Roloway", educates audiences about the environmental and social consequences of the unsustainable palm oil industry. The play is set in the U.K. (home of the consumer) and the rainforest of Côte d’Ivoire (home of the critically endangered Roloway monkey). It is a story about monkeys, people, and the decisions we make that can help protect the environment and home of the Roloway monkey. Joy wrote this play, which addresses a very complex issue from all stakeholders’ perspectives, to both educate and entertain. “I think that people are more inclined to learn when things are presented in a fun way,” she explains.
“Save Your Last Roloway” tells a story about a successful campaign to protect the forest refuge of some of the most endangered primates of West Africa. Joy manages to successfully walk the fine line of encouraging ethical decisions without making people feel guilty when these decisions are not possible or outside our means, emphasising that all our small decisions ultimately add up to larger results.
MASC collaborated with the Moroccan NGO Barbary Macaque Conservation in the Rif (BMCRif) for its second play, "Muna the Monkey". Joy adapted this play from BMCRif’s “The Story of Teshta”, a story about an infant Barbary macaque who was captured from its natural habitat and sold illegally as a pet. Joy was careful to make such a sad story engaging and entertaining.
MASC recently undertook the second leg of the collaborative project with BMCRif and rewrote the play this time for a Moroccan audience. In this endeavour, Joy deftly redesigned the set and costume to be transportable and cost efficient. More importantly, she rewrote the content of the play to ensure the message got through to the audience without barriers caused by oversights in cultural differences, including changing the name of the main macaque character from Muna to Teshta, a Moroccan name. After being trained by Joy, Moroccan actors, along with BMCRif staff, hope to implement the play in urban schools. It will be the first time theatre is used in Morocco to raise awareness about the illegal wildlife trade. Sian Waters, BMCRif Director and PEN Regional Coordinator for North Africa, says, “We thoroughly recommend collaborating with Joy and MASC. They share our approach in education and outreach by accounting for cultural differences.”
Joy says, “I hope to collaborate with charities based in other countries to enable them to run plays, particularly for audiences who may not have high levels of literacy.” PEN is valuable to Joy as an educator. “It is essential that all educators share their methods and experiences. PEN provides a platform for this sharing,” adds Joy.
Not only is Joy creative and thrifty, she is a conscientious conservationist who is sensitive to her audience. The conservation community as a whole is lucky to have her. And primate conservation and theatre are lucky to have MASC.
Interested in collaborating with MASC to integrate theatre into your education programme? Contact Joy and her team here!
This blog post was written by Aoife Healy. She is a Trustee of MASC and a Ph.D. student at Oxford Brookes University, who is currently studying vervet monkey group distribution and human-vervet conflict situations in suburban (rescue centre intake records) and rural environments (crop-raiding review).