How can performance prevent rape?

On-stage performance can help us reimagine what we take for granted. This blog looks at how performance can explore different ways to be a woman or a man, and negotiate relationships that are flexible, fun, and freeing.

I suggest that performance can be used as a tool in rape prevention. I look at how performative methods of rape prevention may build upon and develop other forms of social education that work to end rape, creating possibilites for different ways to engage in intimate relationships.

This blog is a personal, theoretical, and performative exploration of how performance can be used in rape prevention.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Spreading the Love: Pop-Up Cinema Dates

How often do you go to the beach, the pool, or the tram stop and think ‘Gee, this place would ROCK if only I could snuggle in bed, eat candy, and watch arty films’? Well wish no more! Catch Spreading the Love: Pop-Up Cinema as it tours Adelaide’s outdoor spaces. Watch short films revealing local people’s secrets in love. Go to bed with your neighbours; get intimate in public. This is radical relaxation. It’s spreading the love.

I'll be at Tram Stop 6 (south road, under the bridge) 5:30pm on 14th Nov
Unley Swimming Pool 6:30pm on 16th Nov
Henley square 6:30pm on 17th Nov
Marion Swimming Pool 4:30pm on 18th Nov

All are free (Gold coin donation for entry into Unley pool, small charge for entry into Marion pool - but no charge for my show - that's love huh?).

All run for approx 90minutes.

Spreading the Love: Pop-Up Cinema is part of the Feast Festival. The program will be released in a few months. so you heard it here first. Well first.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

When Performances of Pain Re-Traumatise

Performances that deal with traumatic issues may re-traumatise spectators. When these performances of pain are presented to those who have lived experiences that resonate with those on stage, these works may elicit and reinforce suffering, rather than suggest that any change is possible. Instead of assisting in the transformation of distressing circumstances, performing actual experiences of suffering may re-traumatise some spectators, reminding them of anguish. The simple act of remembering trauma can feel too dangerous, as a 72 year old survivor of the genocide in Rwanda said: 'Even when we think about those things that happened, those memories, I don't know why we don't die’.

Thetha Ngikhulume by the Victory Sonqoba Theatre Company
Applied theatre theorist Stephanie Marlin-Curiel (2002) discusses several pieces of testimonial theatre based on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa, including Thetha Ngikhulume (Speak So That I May Speak) (1998) by the Victory Sonqoba Theatre Company, and directed by Bongani Linda. Performers were both victims and perpetrators of apartheid from the township of Alexandra, just outside Johannesburg.  


Thetha Ngikhulume told testimonies of abuses from the lived experiences of local residents back to the community. Unlike many testimonial performances, this piece was not created by an organisation or formal group, but by a local theatre director in order to voice his concerns, and those of his community. Through Thetha Ngikhulume Linda, the director hoped to provide a vehicle for reconciliation between victims and perpetrators and promote healing in both performers and spectators.

Director, Bongani Linda

In performing their own pain, Victory Sonqoba Theatre Company anticipated that actors would develop strength and support. Psychiatrist Judith Herman, who writes in the field of trauma, argues that healing is a process that encompasses personal responses, and ideally, some form of public recognition. Herman claims that while personal therapy can be vital, political and legal acknowledgement of suffering can assist the process of healing. Yet in order to work towards healing, testimonial performances must transform shame into self-respect and humiliation into dignity. 

Although Thetha Ngikhulume provides an acknowledgement of suffering, allowing those with experiences of trauma to share these events with those who had likewise felt similar suffering, the performance did not manage to foster a sense of strength. Narratives from the first act of the play tell of horror and violence, focusing on anger rather than reconciliation and burgeoning strength. Rather than a performance process that highlights hope and new possibilities, the show re-enacts painful true experiences. As stories gathered within the township are played back to the community this performance has the capacity to allow a communal space of loss and understanding, developing a shared vision of recovery. However, it also has the potential to arouse and agitate serious collective grief. Thetha Ngikhulume relives suffering with those already well-aware of its actuality.

 'Reconciliation' by the Victory Sonqoba Theatre Company

Perhaps more problematically however, Thetha Ngikhulume disturbs the boundary between representation and reality. Performance theorist Peggy Phelan insists that ‘show’ business is not ‘real’ business, and instead works within a fictitious framework to reveal fantasies of the ‘real’ world. Yet Thetha Ngikhulume ceased to be representation and instead stood in for the real as the performance revealed community secrets, telling stories some spectators would have heard for the first time. In this way Thetha Ngikhulume becomes a site for not only reflecting on past pain, but also disclosing fresh information. Rather than being what Richard Schechner calls ‘twice-behaved’ behaviours, these testimonies of pain became once-behaved, not representing, but rather becoming objects of pain themselves. Thetha Ngikhulume was intimate, so close to the events narrated on stage that it became a traumatic event in itself. In fact, part way through its tour of the township the performance had to abruptly end. The director, Linda tells: ‘It became real…. We couldn't differentiate between playing and reality’ (Marlin-Curiel, 2002, p. 276).

Sontag and Representations of Suffering

Perhaps it is not eliminating pain or trauma or acts of gross violation that would make the world beautiful. Perhaps it is that beauty and hope can exist in amongst all this pain that makes life worthwhile.

How do performances deal with traumatic subjects? Performance may create a social space to express and explore painful subjects, using the fictional space of the stage as a way to deal with difficult issues.Issues not usually confronted in a social arena may be tackled through performance. Susan Sontag claims that representations of suffering  ensure that traumas are not forgotten.

Sontag wrote that representations of suffering must not be pure spectacle. She maintains that images of pain must never be removed from an awareness of suffering as a lived reality. Displaying images of suffering as spectacle universalises experiences of the few and trivialises trauma, suggesting ‘perversely, unseriously, that there is no real suffering in the world’ (Regarding the Pain of Others, 2003, p. 99). It is therefore vital to represent suffering as a lived reality, as experiences that are endured by individuals and groups. Sontag concludes that we should ‘let the atrocious images haunt us’, to continually consider ‘what human beings are capable of doing’ (Regarding the Pain of Others 2003, p. 102). Accepting and acknowledging cruelty and depravity is integral to reaching maturity, maintains Sontag.

It may be vital to stage suffering in order to advocate for acknowledgement of particular points of view or events. Representations of pain can ensure that traumatic events are not overlooked by history, and that those who were victimised by events have the power to describe circumstances. Representations of suffering may inspire awareness and acknowledgement in spectators, encouraging them to question their world-views. Sontag’s analysis provides a framework for performance to encourage those who do not have first-hand experiences of the depicted trauma to respond ethically to suffering. While only a minority of people in the world have the ‘dubious privilege’ of choosing to be a spectator, to be able to judge the suffering of others from a safe distance, this must not enable a disconnection from pain.