Interactive play about rape and victim blaming opens up conversation for students

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Far From the Heart, an interactive play covering subjects including consent, rape, victim blaming and high school drinking, made its way to Huntsville this past Tuesday to educate the grade nine students of Huntsville High School (HHS).

The production is funded by government grants and was created by Sheatre, a professional arts company located in Owen Sound.

The play’s cast is comprised of four characters and is currently touring around Ontario for its 10th anniversary. It covers violence in teen dating as well as consent and the potential dangers of high school parties. Throughout the performance the characters not only act out different common situations high school students often find themselves in, but they also use the interactive aspect of the show to encourage students to participate.

“The project is set up in three parts”, said Warren Bain, show facilitator and team member since 2009. “The first is the pre-show discussion led by the teachers so that the students are prepared. Part two is watching the performance of the play itself. Then part three is doing the performance again but this time allowing audience members to take the place of the characters in order to express moments throughout the show where they felt uncomfortable and how they would change these situations.”

The unique experience of being a part of Far From the Heart’s audience means that the education doesn’t stop  when the curtain closes. The Sheatre team also provided HHS teachers with a package of questions and activities to generate further discussion about the play and the topics covered. As soon as the performance was finished, students were put into small groups to talk about the show and were given the option to talk with a counsellor if they wanted to do so.

Warren also pointed out that the cast members use statistics to paint their picture to the audience such as the horrifying fact that 80 per cent of sexual assaults are committed by a family member or friend of the victim. This statistic reiterates the importance of Far From the Heart, as a common misconception is that typically rape or sexual assault incidents are committed by strangers.

Jen Cooper, a teacher at Huntsville High who attended the play, was thankful for the opportunity to have a broader discussion with her students about sexual assault, rape and binge drinking. “As teachers we can present the same message, but its challenging to do it in a way that doesn’t come across as a lecture or as someone who doesn’t understand the world of a high school student,” Cooper said.

Both Cooper and Ryan Bionda, a grade nine student who attended the performance, didn’t express any disappointment regarding the cast members or story line, but were concerned with how some of the students reacted to the rape scene in the play.

According to Bionda, numerous students raised their hand during the interactive portion of the performance to express that the character of the victim in the story probably wouldn’t have been sexually assaulted if she hadn’t worn a revealing dress.

Kids my age think sexual assault and rape are all about how the victim dresses and how much they drink. So it was eye opening for us to see a real life situation acted out on stage in front of our eyes instead of it being on TV or movies. The actors showed us that the way the character was dressed had nothing to do with her sexual assault. They told us that clothes don’t assault people. People assault people.

Ryan Bionda, Grade nine HHS student

Cooper felt the same way about the reactions from students regarding the clothing of the victim. “After hearing the students’ responses it made me realize we have a long way to go to teach students about healthy relationships. I also wish they saw in themselves what we as educators see; that they are all important and worthy of being loved by someone who truly cares about them.”

Bionda also pointed out that although the topic of rape and sexual assault may be shocking and controversial to witness on stage, it is more than necessary to demonstrate so that students are prepared and aware of what happens to young people like themselves every day.

Warren said he felt that Huntsville High’s audience members were engaged in the performance. “There were a lot of great conversations generated by the group. The students were very open, honest and respectful of each other.”

Far From the Heart will be on tour until November and next year as well, in hopes of finally ending sexual violence and harassment in schools all across Ontario.

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