Interactive forum theatre play making its way to local high schools

Sheatre

Sheatre’s touring production of Far From The Heart/Loin du Coeur, a play that addresses sexual assault and sexual violence prevention using interactive forum theatre, will be featured at a local St Catharines high school later this week. The performance will mark its final stop of the tour at Eden High School as well as A.N. Myer Secondary School in Niagara Falls on October 20.

Far From the Heart/Loin du Coeur put on by Sheatre, a professional community arts theatre located near Owen Sound, is a play that has continued to run over the past decade due in large part to its effectiveness and unique approach to topics like sexual assault prevention and consent. Additionally, the success of the performance has garnered funding from both the Ontario Arts Council and the Canadian Council for the Arts for a fall tour.

Whats especially unique about Far From the Heart/Lion du Coeur is its interactive quality. The performance begins with a 25 minute problem play which is shown to the audience; afterwards, they revisit key moments that occurred within the play where certain decisions are made that affect the entire outcome. At this point in the performance, audience members are then allowed and invited to stop the play anytime they may feel uncomfortable, or as if something is going wrong.

“They come up on stage, replace characters, or add characters, and try a different action, a different behaviour that they believe can solve what’s going on,” Joan Chandler, the founding artistic director of Sheatre theatre company, says. “In that way, we’re actively brainstorming and experiencing different ways of solving issues and behaving in certain situations.”

This type of theatre is modeled after a form of applied theatre called Theatre of the Oppressed developed by Augusto Boal. The function of Theatre of the Oppressed is to avoid speaking at the audience nor does it provide answers to the overarching political concepts within the performances. Instead, the audience, aided by the ‘joker’ or facilitator, move from passivity to action, creating the change within the play by being physically and emotionally engaged within it. Additionally, Theatre of the Oppressed is designed around creating social or political change.

There is one large difference between this performance and traditional forms of Theatre of the Oppressed, Chandler states. “In Theatre of the Oppressed you never replace the oppressor, but in this we do. It’s important we see positive behaviour and positive role models, that we see that there are alternative ways of behaving in these situations, so that we can tell the difference between oppression and acceptable behaviour.”

What’s especially notable about the performance is the topic it takes on, addressing concepts like consent and sexual assault prevention that are often either discussed vaguely or ignored altogether.

“It’s a topic that’s rarely talked about in the open, and often when it is talked about it’s talked about with questions and with bit of mystery,” Chandler says. “[Far From the Heart/Loin du Coeur] provides us a platform to talk about consent and to talk about healthy relationships by showing those and demonstrating those and at the same time having the opportunity to accept that these negative things happen in life.”

The play was also developed with an educational program that goes on around it with activities for students and audience members to do before the performance goes on as well as follow-up activities that teachers may use afterwards if time permits. The program was developed with educators and social service peoples, the topic of the performance in line with the current sexual education curriculum.

But why address sexual assault prevention and education with theatre?

“Theatre really touches our emotional core. It’s very visceral and it’s so different from reading something or hearing somebody talk about it.” Chandler adds. “When you get up there, or you see your friends up there, or your classmates or whoever they are up there, they’re a part of your community really engaged in this emotional drama that’s happening, so you become, as an audience, emotionally engaged to a heightened degree.”

The tour, which started September 22 at Harmony centre in Owen Sound, will complete its tour on Oct. 20 with performances in both St Catharines as well as Niagara Falls. The production is projected  to reach over 3,000 students, ranging from grade 7-12 as well as universities. Additionally, the tour reaches 20 different communities across Ontario, being offered in both English and French.

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