Response to Half Full

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The premiere season of our school tour Half Full was a blast! We loved having the opportunity to bring this important discussion of mental health and dealing with anxiety to over 25 schools within the GTA and across Ontario, reaching between 7000 and 8000 students in our extended, month-long run. Response from students, teachers, and school administrators was overwhelmingly positive across the board. We would like to highlight some of the great messages we received on social media congratulating our talented actors on their performance and thanking our wonderful facilitator for her leadership of a discussion without stigma.

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Get to Know Us! MCT’s Ambitious, Theatre-Loving Intern

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Travis interned with Mixed Company Theatre from the end of February to mid-May. He’s thrilled with how much he was able to learn during his internship, and intends to continue to turn to MCT for advice as he develops independent projects.

We’re glad we got to know Travis, and loved his enthusiasm for his work. We hope you enjoy his story of inspiration and aspirations as much as we do.

1. Tell us about yourself.

I’m a 23 year old theatre student from York University. I was born in Toronto, but my parents are Jamaican. Singing is one of my favourite hobbies. I’m actually in a gospel group called United. Singing is a big part of me, and if I wasn’t in theatre, I’d probably be pursuing a career in music. My goal in life is to release at least two projects. Right now, I’ve started to write my own play.

2. How has your experience with MCT been so far?

I haven’t been at MCT for very long, but it’s been an enriching experience. The staff are eager to teach me what I want to learn, which I think is the coolest part. It’s not just a job where you’re told what to do. It’s really an educational experience.

3. What do you intend to gain from being an intern at MCT?

I’d like to get more experience working at a theatre company, and gain transferrable skills for my own company, which I’m planning to start soon. I also want to establish a really long working relationship with MCT.

4. What exactly drew you to MCT?

I learned about Forum Theatre and MCT over the summer. I wanted to figure out the kind of programs I’d like to implement with my own company, and a friend suggested that I check out MCT. I looked at their website and saw that they were offering internship opportunities. I was interested, so I reached out to Kristin, the Artistic Projects Manager, and now here I am.

5. Can you tell us more about the company you’re starting?

Right now the company is called Get It Together. It’s a working title, but the idea behind it is that as an at-risk youth, you’re always being told to “get it together,” but nobody has ever told you how to do that. So what I want to do is give youth the opportunity to do just that – learn how to develop the life skills that allow them to “get it together.” The life skills that will enable them to make a change in their own communities. This is something that I’ve wanted to do since high school, but I didn’t have the resources or knowledge to start at that point. I only started planning the launch of my company in May of 2015.

6. What inspired you?

I was inspired by my experiences in theatre and experiences in high school. During high school we had the opportunity to participate in the Sears Ontario Drama Festival. Our student troupe was able to share our story with audiences during the competition, and made it all the way to the regional round. It was great! It changed our perspective, the way we saw ourselves. I want to help others have that experience.

7. Finally, what do you like about theatre?

I love being able to go on stage and be a totally different person. You can grab people’s attention and convey a message without directly speaking to them – creatively addressing an issue. There’s also the feeling of camaraderie. Working in theatre is like being on a sports team, except without all of the competition. All sorts of people come together to create one collective piece. I think it’s also important to create art with meaning. Creating art for art’s sake is fine, but I think it’s great if your work of art can mean something to someone. I want to make a difference.

Showdown & Mixed Messages: Theatre for Social Change

The Facts

What is bullying and why has it been such an important topic for so long in schools? In 2012 Ontario became the third province in Canada to implement anti-bullying legislation. A study done around the same time by the Public Health Agency Canada revealed that nearly 20% of students report being bullied, while 40% of students report being both victims and bullies[1]. The Public Health Agency of Canada defines bullying as follows:

“Bullying is a relationship problem. It is a form of repeated aggression where there is an imbalance of power between the young person who is bullying and the young person who is victimized. Power can be achieved through physical, psychological, social, or systemic advantage, or by knowing another’s vulnerability (e.g., obesity, learning problem, sexual orientation, family background) and using that knowledge to cause distress.”[2]

The above definition expands our understanding of bullying beyond physical violence; it looks at the deeper power dynamics between and among youth, and the numerous ways through which power is achieved. The organization Promoting Relationships & Eliminating Violence Network (PREVNet) states that bullying rates in Canada are higher than 2/3 of OECD countries, and the bullying doesn’t stop when students leave school. Some more facts from PREVNet include: Over 1/3 of Canadian teens have seen cyberbullying take place, 1 in 5 teenagers now report being victimized electronically, and 80% of teens have seen racist or sexist content online.[3] What this data reveals is that bullying is a complex problem that requires a dynamic approach and solution.

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We Listen

In 2002 the idea for Showdown began with Simon Malbogat, the Artistic Director at Mixed Company Theatre, as he delivered workshops to schools in North York, York, and Scarborough. Through his work with these schools, Simon realized that bullying was not only a common issue, but also a daily occurrence in the lives of students. He decided to work with students and teachers to create a show and workshop, using Forum Theatre to address issues of physical and emotional bullying, isolation, manipulation, and bullying between genders.

MCT applied to Crime Prevention and received funding to create and perform the workshop and show. Support from such a well-known organization helped Mixed Company Theatre to build trust with school communities, and raised awareness about the efficacy of Showdown. The Toronto Catholic District School Board (TDSB) heard positive reviews of the production, and helped bring it to more classrooms, through the provision of subsidies. Other school boards also started to request the show. Simon had hit upon crucial social issues through listening to the needs of the schools, teachers, and students, and Showdown was in demand, and was eventually seen by over 350,000 students and educators.

This ability to pay attention to the needs and feedback of students and teachers led to a turning point for Showdown in 2011. The internet and online social platforms were quickly becoming new places for bullying to occur. Mixed Company Theatre realized that Showdown was not keeping up with this shift and would soon be outdated if the company didn’t adapt. Thus was born Showdown 2.0, an updated version of Showdown, which included technology and ways of dealing with cyberbullying.

Through the positive reviews and feedback about Showdown, and our amazing funders and partners like Crime Prevention and the TCDSB, Mixed Company Theatre was able to tour two versions of the show: one version for younger grades, and another version for secondary schools. In 2009 The Bullying Show with Morro & Jasp was also developed to respond to the need for an anti-bullying show for students in Grade 2-5. Through these shows, we were able to reach audiences of over 30, 000 per year from 2004 to 2014. With the funding received through Crime Prevention, Mixed Company Theatre was able to add the production and aesthetic values which gleaned a DORA nomination.

We Feel

Showdown wasn’t born solely from Simon’s experience giving workshops in various school districts; Simon was personally affected by bullying. More specifically, his son experienced physical and psychological bullying at school. Simon did what any parent would do: he went into the schools and spoke with his son’s teachers. His teachers promised to deal with the situation, but the bullying persisted. Simon then reached out to the principal to help put an end to the bullying, and separate his son from the bully. The teachers and principal did little to help, and his son continued to come home bruised, bleeding, and defeated.

This is when Simon realized that he had to take matters into his own hands. The school system wasn’t addressing a serious issue, and continued to place his son in harm’s way. Simon wrote letters to the head of the district school board, the trustee and superintendent of the board, and anyone that would have more power to help his son, and ensure that bullying would be taken more seriously within the education system. Despite the fact that the principal did not take drastic actions to resolve the bullying, Simon was admonished for going over her head, and it took five months before the principal dealt with the situation. People eventually started to listen to Simon’s plight, recognize the broken chain of care within the education system in dealing with physical and psychological bullying, and see its impact on those that fell victim to the violent behavior.

People started speaking up about their own experiences with bullying in their schools, from teachers and guidance counsellors to students, principals, and politicians. This input from principals, teachers, students, the mayor, and other leaders, all catalyzed the development of Showdown, Showdown 2.0, and Mixed Messages. It also ensured that Mixed Company Theatre was continually aware of their audience and adapting to changing needs and issues.

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We Change

Now that the demand for Showdown and our more recent production Mixed Messages is waning, how will Mixed Company Theatre adapt to our audience? We know that it is still necessary, more than ever, to teach our kids the difference between coercion (bullying, manipulation, and rape culture) and consent, as well as the difference between the escalation and de-escalation of a situation. We know that in the past a Forum Theatre play, followed directly by an interactive forum and intervention session has really resonated with teachers and students alike. But what changed and how can we adapt to the shifting demands for the educational curriculum, especially in a time where it seems like mental health is taking centre stage? From the research mentioned at the beginning of this article, it would be fair to say that mental health is without a doubt part of the complex issue of bullying, and thus was born our new school tour, Half Full. No matter which issues are in vogue, whether bullying, consent, or mental health, one thing is for sure: Mixed Company Theatre’s approach using Forum Theatre will always lead to positive engagement and dialogue on how to create positive social change.

Testimonials

“Showdown provided a unique opportunity for staff to have fun while they learned and engaged with the topic of violence, in a credible and realistic manner. Showdown’s ability to provide hope and positive solutions for the very complex problems of violence and bullying was heartening, and clearly emphasized the resilience of youth. The material was all the more poignant presented through the voices of youth, challenging the audience to consider the experience of violence and bullying from the youth’s perspective.”

Edwina Godden, Central Region Youth Justice Trainer, Ontario Ministry of Children and Youth Services

“I have been able to use Mixed Company presentations, and some materials from your teaching guide, to continue to use lessons from the story, and make students think about their own lives and involvement with peer pressure. My students loved the performance and were very much engaged.”

Teacher, TDSB

“It was a pleasure having Mixed Company Theatre perform at Riddell. They were able to successfully plan and implement an anti-bullying performance that included all of the key messages and strategies for dealing with bullying. It was an interactive presentation with students participating and problem-solving throughout the performance. It was Grades 4-6 age-appropriate and connected very well to discussing our own school climate and how all of us have a responsibility to make Riddell the safest place to learn and achieve our full potential.”

Wes Hahn, Principal, R A Riddell

[1] 2012, K. Dearden. Canada: Ontario’s Anti-Bullying Legislation Is Now In Effect.
[2] W. Craig, H. McCuaig Edge. The health of Canada’s Young People: a mental health focus.
[3] PREVNet Bullying. The Facts.

 

Conscious Theatre with Heart and Purpose: 2015 A Year in Review

What a year it has been for Mixed Company Theatre! In 2015 we worked on several amazing projects including: developing our Inter-Gen Program, creating a new high school tour called Half Full, touring Mixed Messages to high schools and universities across the GTA, building Out of the Illusion – a play with the JustUs Group of seniors from the Six Nations Reserve, delivering workshops to several community organizations including the MicroSkills Youth Centre, and the last show of 2015 – A Day on the Shore – developed in collaboration with Lakeshore residents.

This will be the third year developing our Inter-Gen Program. We have led interactive workshops with participants from our partnering organizations including UrbanArts, Heritage York Members at Historical Lambton House, and Scadding Court Community Centre. These workshops brought together people across generations to create theatrical presentations to bridge the gap between generational and cultural realities, issues, and concerns. In the upcoming year, the project will culminate with the stories of two communities – Weston/Mount Dennis and Alexandra Park/Chinatown – and MCT will build two productions showcased within a Toronto theatre venue. Stay tuned for more details!

In February we workshopped Half Full, our newest high school show to break the stigma on mental health. The process was led by the Mixed Company Theatre playwright Catherine Frid, who developed the script with the input of those who live with anxiety, including students, teachers, and mental health and educational institutions. We also toured our well received production Mixed Messages to High Schools this past May and in Universities in August. We received tremendous positive feedback from the student and teacher audience members in the various schools, and we will continue to reach schools across the GTA this coming year.

With Microskills Youth Centre – the Dixie Road location – we ran workshops with youth to raise awareness of gender and equity issues and the effects of cyber bullying. The workshops were delivered as an after school program to a group of local youth. Other workshops offered this past year were our Summer Professional Development workshop series which included our Introduction to Forum Theatre, Masks of Manipulation, Rainbow of Desire, and Facilitator/Joker Training.

This fall Mixed Company Theatre, in partnership with Scadding Court Community Centre and The G. Raymond Chang School of Continuing Education at Ryerson University, worked with the JustUs: an amazingly talented First Nation’s Senior group from the Six Nations Reserve. Through interactive theatre and community arts activities, participants explored intergenerational stories, issues and concerns. This forum theatre presentation, Out of the Illusion, tackled the subject of breaking the cycle of violence through the perspective of the senior participants and the voices of their community. Out of the Illusion was well received by audiences at Ohsweken’s Great Theatre and Toronto’s Ryerson University. All were able to unpack current social issues and engage in essential dialogue using forum theatre techniques with local community participants. We hope to continue to develop and share this important production with a wider audience in 2016.

Our final show this year, A Day on the Shore, was supported by the Toronto Arts Council’s Artists in the Library program, and the Toronto Pearson Airport’s Propeller Program. Mixed Company Theatre was this year’s artist in residence at the Mimico Centennial Library. This show was a beautiful mosaic of community building, art making and designing, music and soundscape development, storytelling and live theatre performances. Many of the performers were local residents of the Lakeshore neighbourhood. The script was developed in consultation with local residents, and showcased their shared stories and lived experiences of the neighbourhood. These community members were also involved in every aspect of development of the production, including puppet making, instrument building, soundscape production, costume and prop making, and performing in the show. We were able to capture their joy, the new participants connections made, as well as be witness to the artistic transformation that occurred by being part of A Day on the Shore. It was truly a lovely way to wrap up the year!

We would like to thank our company funders who helped us to realize all of the great work we accomplished this year. Thank you to: the RBC Children’s Mental Health Project, Scotiabank’s J.P Bickell Foundation, the Ontario Trillium Foundation, the Toronto Arts Council, the Ontario Arts Council, the Toronto Pearson Airport’s Propeller Project, the Catherine and Maxwell Meighen Foundation, the Ontario Government Seniors Community Grant Program, and the Ontario Arts Endowment Fund.

A big thank you also to our community partners who have been amazing hosts and collaborators. Thank you to: Scadding Court Community Centre, Heritage York (Located in the Historical Lambton House), UrbanArts, the Toronto District School Board, the Toronto Catholic District School Board, the Toronto Public Library, Ryerson University’s G. Raymond Chang School of Continuing EducationLakeshore Arts, and the South Etobicoke Youth Assembly.

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