What is inappropriate sexual behaviour? What does true consent look like?
Those are two of the questions explored in a new play from Sum Theatre targeted at teenage audiences. The show, called #consent, will be touring Saskatchewan high schools from April 4 – 15, and the theatre company hopes it will spark important discussions among young people.
“It’s a free educational play for high school students about sexual violence, healthy relationships and consent,” said lead creator Heather Morrison. “We’ve been in touch with the schools, and I think we’re going to maybe half the high schools in Saskatoon.”
While teens are the focus of the play, all are welcome to view it (although it deals with content that may be too mature for children under the age of 12). As a result, Sum Theatre is offering five free performances at Saskatoon public libraries. Go online to sumtheatre.com/consent for full details about dates, locations and times.
A number of interdisciplinary artists contributed to #consent, including Danielle Altrogge, Connor Brousseau, Paige Francoeur, S.E. Grummett, Leah Horlick, Greg Ochitwa, Krystle Pederson and Morrison. The contributors come from different backgrounds, including the queer and gender non-conforming communities.
“We like to say that this play is for all people, and so we wanted it to be written by all people,” Morrison said.
Many individuals have experienced unwanted touch, inappropriate comments or sexual harassment, and the rise of the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements have helped bring discussions about these experiences into the public sphere.
With #consent, Sum Theatre is aiming to meet teens where they’re at: on social media. The show’s design mimics a social media feed with different scenes, songs, memes and photos looking at various aspects of inappropriate sexual behavior. The performers move from scene to scene as a teen would navigate the digital world. The performers talk about how to have healthy relationships and discuss what consent is.
“We provide information on bystander intervention, so we model that for the students. Here’s what you can do if you know someone is being sexually harassed or is in more dire trouble—these are the ways that you can intervene,” said Morrison.
“Then we also talk about the legalities surrounding sharing sexual or private images on the Internet, because that’s something that kids deal with that we didn’t have to deal with when we were growing up.”
Morrison, who is 33 years old, said sexual health education was limited at her school when she was a teen; essentially, students were shown pictures of sexually transmitted infections and were instructed on how to put on a condom, she said. In contrast, Sum Theatre is talking about a lot of the complex issues that have been brought up by the #MeToo movement.
“People are saying, ‘I fell asleep at a party. I woke up, something was happening to me and I never understood. But it was labelled as my fault that it happened, because I had too much to drink.’ We talk about that,” said Morrison.
“We’re saying, ‘If someone’s incapacitated, they cannot consent to sexual activity. If somebody agrees to sexual activity and passes out, they’re no longer able to consent.’ We just give them that information that they need to know, but also that potential victims need to know.”
Morrison hopes #consent serves as a “preventative measure,” and that the play assists people in having healthier relationships from a young age. She believes teens will love the show.
“It’s really fast-paced; it’s really funny,” she said. “I know the subject matter is super serious, but we’ve really created a digestible format for the kids to get this information into their minds and into their hearts.”