MCT and Sefton Jackson: MicroSkills Workshops

About MicroSkills

Community MicroSkills Development Centre is a multi-cultural, non-profit, community-based organization committed to assisting the unemployed, with priority to women, racial minorities, youth, and immigrants. Recognizing barriers that immigrants, racial minorities, youth, and women face in their efforts towards self-sufficiency, MicroSkills aims to enable these groups to participate more fully in Canadian society, and assist them in acquiring the skills needed to achieve self-determination and economic, social, and political equality.

The programs are designed to assist the unemployed achieve career and personal goals. Clients can choose as many services as required to help them on their way to becoming self-reliant and economically self-sufficient.

Sefton, Mixed Company Theatre, and MicroSkills

Sefton Jackson is a graduate from the Humber College theatre program, and was washing windows for corporate buildings when he met Waawaate Fobister. Waawaate was one of the actors at Mixed Company Theatre (MCT) in Cobblestone, a show that reflected the stories of youth living on the streets and in shelters. Waawaate saw in Sefton a kindred spirit for the performing arts whose talents were better served on the stage, not washing windows. He encouraged Sefton to check out MCT and recommended him to the artistic director, Simon Malbogat.

Sefton later interviewed with Simon, who saw his raw talent and passion for acting, and thought that he would be a perfect addition to the Cobblestone show. Sefton started acting in Cobblestone in 2006, then moved on to Showdown and Showdown 2.0. He continued touring with Showdown 2.0 through high schools and public schools for a number of years. During this time Sefton began exploring roles outside of acting, and began facilitating workshops with Mixed Company Theatre. The most recent workshop he has facilitated has been in partnership with the Community MicroSkills Development Centre, delivering workshops looking at gender differences at North Albion Collegiate.

The workshops were designed to be homework drop-in sessions, where students spent time getting help with their homework, and participated in the MCT and MicroSkills workshops. Initially, the workshops were catered to male students, but later were opened to include female students. The students were comprised of Grade 9-12 youth who faced difficulties keeping up in the classroom. Sefton used games as a way of entering into deeper conversations about the power dynamics between genders, equality, and how to build more respectful peer communities.

These workshops were developed to encourage learning in both directions, from the facilitator to the students, and vice versa. Some of the things that Sefton learned were a couple of new phrases that he had never heard before. These included “Curing AIDS”: the idea that anything could be cured by having sex, and “Girl Clowning” or simply “GC”: to go online and act nicely or flirt with someone, then behave in the exact opposite way in person in front of their peers, essentially shaming them (usually a boy behaving this way to a girl).

Sefton used the opportunity of the youth sharing and explaining these phrases to engage in a discussion about the impact of the behaviour, and the power dynamics of the actions that these phrases elicit. He worked with the students to identify who the power wielders were in instances of Girl Clowning, the power dynamics between men and women, and the unfair and negative implications. Through this informative dialogue, Sefton was able to help the students understand how these phrases and actions deteriorate relationships between the genders, and demean female students.

MCT and MicroSkills Workshop Philosophy

Each workshop started by going around the circle and sharing everyone’s names, since there were different students each week. In addition to sharing names, students were asked to check-in with how they were feeling that day, and in that moment. This ensured that Sefton, as well as the other students, were aware if someone was having a bad day and needed extra support or empathy. Sefton encouraged an environment where there were no right or wrong answers, so that students could speak frankly without judgement. Students were allowed to share their views freely, using language that they were comfortable using. The workshops began with Sefton identifying that he was not an expert, but a facilitator, open to learning with the students. If someone required services beyond Sefton’s abilities he would then refer them to other resources.

Student Feedback/Outcome

Students came to the workshop identifying each other by their gender, with a distinct separation between boys and girls, and all the stereotypes that went with it. At the end of the workshop, students left seeing each other as human beings and equals. In the beginning, students entered and sat by themselves, not knowing anyone, and not wanting to sit next to anyone. By the end they developed friendships, sat together, shared jokes, and played games. Sefton also used games to show the students the shift that had happened in their social interactions with one another, and at the end they were able to understand the benefits of nurturing a communal and friendly culture of equality and respect.

Sefton’s Feedback/Outcome

Sefton was able to engage with the students in a way that allowed learning to happen. One teacher, after observing Sefton’s first workshop, was worried that the rest of the workshops would just be repeating the same games and format, and that students wouldn’t be learning anything new. He asked Sefton to include ways of addressing and building perseverance, and helping youth deal with their inner relationship with themselves (How do I deal with me?). Sefton was able to adapt the workshops to include inspirational quotes from famous figures such as Martin Luther King and Einstein. He had students create three images to go with the quotes that most resonated with them. The images were meant to be visual representations of perseverance highlighted in the quotes.

Unexpected Learnings

Sefton didn’t expect to become so attached to the students, since he had only spent five sessions with them over two months. He really enjoyed keeping up with and learning their various slangs, and felt that the kids not only accepted him as a peer, but fully respected him as a facilitator. Facilitating workshops with Mixed Company Theatre has helped Sefton realize that he enjoys engaging in the arts as a facilitator working with youth through different themes and issues.

What keeps him connected to Mixed Company Theatre

In his own words, “To be honest it’s Simon.” This is an answer that several participants of MCT programming have mentioned. For Sefton, he has learned many lessons from Simon, lessons about people, life, and the various ways that we manipulate and are manipulated by others in the arts sector and in general. With each and every show and workshop that he has worked on with MCT, there is always a culture of learning: learning from each other from participants, and from the audience. This has helped Sefton, as an actor, to be prepared to adapt and be open to recommendations and feedback. Each performance is different, which allows him to really sharpen his improvisational skills. Sefton tells us that when you’re an actor with MCT, you learn to do many things beyond acting; you learn to put up and tear down your sets and pitch in with the rest of the team to ensure that you all give the best performance possible, and that has prepared him for the wider world of performing arts.

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.

ShowdownScriptWordcloudwithLogo

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.

Mixed Messages Wordcloud with logo

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.

 

Showdown 2.0 – Dweepesh’s Intro to MCT

posted in: Showdown 2.0 | 0
A scene from Showdown 2.0
Photo by Erin McCluskey. From Left to Right: Michelle Nash, Tayves Fiddis & Michelle Jedrzejewski.

I would like to take this opportunity to introduce myself – I am Dweepesh, co-op MBA candidate at the DeGroote School of Business in McMaster University. I have recently joined MCT as a Marketing Communications Specialist for the summer 2013 co-op term.

While watching my first theatre show presented by Mixed Company Theatre, I realized why I wanted to work here. I have enjoyed theatre over the years, but none like the one I experienced on Wednesday. The first act of SHOWDOWN 2.0 was about the worst case scenario of bullying in high school, especially through the use of social media. While watching I could sense the nervousness inside me because of the issues that were raised. I felt the actors portrayed the scenarios very realistically.

The second act was something I could have never imagined. The ‘joker’, or the facilitator, asked the audience to be involved in scenes they felt they’d like to change, and to pick a character in the scene they would want to replace. I was surprised by the enthusiastic response of the middle school kids, who volunteered to get up and intervene in the play. I noticed how many wanted to become the oppressor and change the way the bully treated others. Going up in front of their peers was a very brave step. The audience participants really influenced me, and if I was called up on the stage, I would have probably liked to replace a bystander and try my own ways of standing up against the bully.

Thank you MCT for this wonderful opportunity and I look forward to a successful term!

1 2