Welcome to Mixed Company Theatre’s bi-annual newsletter!
This newsletter serves as a forum for sharing. Not only detailing the work that Mixed Company Theatre performs in schools and the community, but also profiling and applauding the efforts of our clients and donors. In addition, we provide supplementary resource links that will be of interest to you.
In this issue you’ll learn how one group of youth is tackling the topic of sexual assault, how educators are honoring graduates entering the work force right out of high school, how donor funds made a new project a reality, and how one College is approaching “No means No” in their residences in a new, innovative manner (and how you can too!). You’ll also read about anti-bullying iniatives in Turkey, celebrate valued client and Child and Youth Worker, Maria Buzdon, and learn about the next steps for Mixed Company Theatre.
Engage, Educate, Empower – and Enjoy!
New Youth Script Tackles Sexual Assault & Harassment
Richard Ouzounian, theatre critic for the Toronto Star, recently observed the progression of theatre for youth from “sugar coated fairy tales” to stories that address the real issues of the day. “Happy endings,” Ouzounian points out, are no longer par for the course.
This sentiment is echoed in the media – with Columbine, Jane Creba, Jordon Manners, and youth issues such as cyber-bullying, gang violence, and alcohol and drug abuse serving as a few examples.
While adults attempt to address, regulate, and denounce the chaos, what kind of programming exists to examine youth issues from their perspective? What would youth like to see addressed in their communities, schools, amongst their peers?
Thanks to the support of the Laidlaw Foundation, and working with instructor, Duncan McCallum, and playwright Heather-Marie Annis, Mixed Company Theatre’s 2008 Youth Troupe spoke out on topics that are important to them.
Over a ten week process Youth Troupe participants created the content, scenes, characters, and final script for a new play on an issue of their choice. “At first I was nervous talking about such a sensitive subject in front of people I barely knew,” says one troupe member, “but after a single day it was no longer an issue. Not only were the people and leaders amazing, but the company itself stands for everything I espouse, integrity, honesty, and creativity to name a few.”
The final product, a script entitled Under the Table, addresses sexual assault and harassment, a timely subject considering the importance this issue received in the Toronto District School Board’s Final Report on School Safety that was released in January 2008.
In May, Under the Table was performed by the Mixed Company Youth Troupe for their peers in a series of staged readings at Toronto high schools. These presentations served as an opportunity for feedback on this work-in-progress, and as a forum for discussion and prevention. Youth Troupe members also earned their 40 community services hours required for high school graduation.
For more information on how youth can get involved in our upcoming 2009 Youth Troupe, please email Mixed Company Theatre.
Why choose this topic?
“Sexual assault and harassment occurs everyday. It is a topic that is often ignored in an attempt to make it go away, and it is only by informing people about the topic that we can do something about it.”
~ Travis, Youth Troupe participant
“This topic is taboo, and that makes people reluctant to talk about it. If the victims can’t talk about it, how can they feel better? And if no one talks about it, the criminals will keep doing it.”
~ Lindsay, Youth Troupe participant
“Sexual assault and harassment do not discriminate; it happens to everyone, regardless of age, sex, location, or ethnicity.”
“…it happens to guys too!”
“There’s a difference between sexual assault and sexual harassment.”
“[If I knew someone who was being sexually assaulted] I would take my time to listen to their problems, because a simple conversation with a friend can make a big difference.”
“Victims of sexual assault and harassment are not alone. There are many organizations dedicated to [helping] them.”
Honouring all pathways post-graduation
“So often, students who leave school to join the workforce are overlooked,” admits Jean Courtney, former Experiential Learning Consultant for the Dufferin Peel Catholic School Board. “[Students should hear] the message that each pathway from school, whether it leads to post-secondary schooling, apprenticeship training or work, is equally valid and important.”
Hosted by the Peel District School Board (PDSB) and the Dufferin Peel Catholic District School Board (DPCDSB), this year’s 5th annual Mission Employable conference aimed “to serve and support those students who will be joining the world of work after graduation.” Incorporating a keynote speaker, an employment expo and informative seminar presentations, Principal of Student Success, David Coules, explained the purpose of the conference is three-fold: 1) to celebrate graduating students’ choice of entering the work force; 2) to help graduating students improve and enhance their employability skills; and 3) to connect these students to prospective employers.
For the second year in a row, Mixed Company Theatre was honoured to be asked by Student Success Consultant for the DPCDSB, Vikki Borg-Iuele, to present a workshop for Mission Employable attendees. Through a series of interactive scenarios, Mixed Company Theatre worked with students to address job interview etiquette and techniques, arming students with the tools they need to succeed in securing employment.
According to a 2008 report by the Financial Post, more than 51% of perspective employers identified dressing inappropriately as the biggest mistake biggest mistake a candidate could make in an interview. Other mistakes included appearing disinterested or arrogant, not providing specific answers, and asking poor questions.
At Mission Employable, Mixed Company Theatre tackled these concerns in a fun and interactive format. By allowing the students to “rehearse for reality”, improvising and changing the outcome of specific scenes, students learned how to effectively conduct themselves in a job interview.
For the approximately 55,000 Ontario students who will graduate this year and directly enter the workforce, the chance to practice interview techniques, as well as liaise with perspective employers at conferences such as Mission Employable, is an opportunity not to be missed.
Sexual Assault and Youth: How “Yes” has become the new “No”
Remember the “No means No” campaign of the mid eighties? That slogan, drilled into many of our brains as the defining boundary between acceptable and unacceptable sexual conduct, led me to believe, that as a female, it was my responsibility to firmly register my disinterest in any unwanted sexual activity. Fast forward to 2008 – turns out the definition of sexual consent has come along way from my black and white interpretation of “No Means No”.
Last fall, Humber College commissioned Mixed Company Theatre to create Mixed Messages, a play about sexual assault for first year students in residence. Through consultations with Michael Kopinak, Manager of Residence Life, and his team at Humber, I discovered that when it comes to sex, the onus is no longer on the unwilling party to verbally express a firm “No”. Times have changed and now the emphasis is on both parties to secure a mutual and obvious “Yes” before engaging in sex. I had no idea the rules had changed (for the better!) and wondered how many people out there were still in the dark as well?
Mixed Messages, written by Associate Artist Luciano Iogna, provided the perfect opportunity to bring the issues and definitions of sexual assault to the attention of the students. The play highlighted some of the confusing gray areas created by mixing hormones, alcohol, and undefined boundaries. The facilitation period, following the performance, allowed students to join Mixed Company Theatre actors on stage and demonstrate some different choices that the characters could have made to protect themselves from becoming not only victims of sexual assault, but perpetrators as well.
So what did we learn? Well, “No” has many guises when it comes to sex. “No” can be silence, stillness, physical and emotional resistance. “No” can be someone who appears visually drunk, and someone who is passed out. “No” still means “No”, but since the mid-eighties, “No” has become more defined. Confused? I vote for a new slogan in this millennium. It’s not as catchy but it’s clear – ONLY A SOBER “YES” MEANS “YES”.
*As told by Beth Horton, General Manager
experience mixed messages!
…what 8 out of 10 students at Humber found to be an “effective and entertaining way to address the issue of sexual assault.”
~ Humber ITAL, 2007
“These mandatory presentations have made a difference in decreasing sexual assault in our residences and increased communication on the topic!”
~ Michael Kopinak, Manager, Residence Life, Humber
Win a free performance!
Email Mixed Company Theatre with a new slogan to fight sexual assault and win a free performance for students at your school!
The winner will also receive an official posting of the slogan on our website and a feature in our next newsletter.
Mixed Messages tour 08:
Secondary Schools (Grades 11-12): October 1-31
Performing the World (New York City): October 2-5
College and University campuses: September
Ontario Association of College and University Housing Officers: Conference May 27
Sexual Assault Prevention Month!
Learn more from these online resources:
Donor funds make new show possible
Student and teacher evaluations solicited after Mixed Company Theatre’s 2007 school tour, coupled with recent research from organizations such as Health Canada and the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), strongly indicate that the subject of drug and alcohol use amongst high school students is of prime concern.
Generous donations from the George Lunan Foundation, the Fleck Family Foundation, the LewFam Foundation, Telus, ING Direct, the Catherine and Maxwell Meighan Foundation, and a 2:1 matching grant from the Ontario Arts Foundation: Arts Education Partnership Initiative, allowed Mixed Company Theatre to develop What if…?, a new production that explores the emotional and environmental roots that lead to excessive drug and alcohol use, as well as the risks encountered by youth when making decisions under the influence.
Mixed Company Theatre’s unique, interactive approach to What if…?, in which students are encouraged to engage in open-dialogue and improvise solutions to specific issue-based scenarios with professional actors, allows students and educators to examine the underlying issues behind drug and alcohol abuse such as self-esteem, escapism, acceptance, and a sense of belonging.
A 2007 report from the Canadian Centre for Substance Abuse reinforces Mixed Company Theatre’s process, stating “interactive programs that allow participants to identify the pressures they feel to use drugs, and teaches them the skills they need to resist, are more effective [than simply providing young people with anti-drug information].”
“The greatest success of What if…?” reports Mixed Company Theatre’s facilitator Duncan McCallum, “is having the students come up with alternatives [to the issues that arise] from a night of partying.” A Student Services teacher from Downsview Secondary School in Toronto, ON, reports, “What if…? engages students – and the improvisations enable them to think about their options.”
It is with great thanks to our generous funders that Mixed Company Theatre is bridging the gap between the need to educate youth on this important topic in an engaging manner, empowering them with techniques to make the right decisions, and the resources required to do it.
Of Toronto youth, grades 7 to 12:
14.8% binge drink (5+ drinks on one occasion)
20.1% smoke cannabis
8.3% use other illicit drugs
~ Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, 2007.
Across Canada, over 30% of young people aged 15-19 reported heavy monthly alcohol use.
~ Health Canada, 2007.
Some tips for youth on how to avoid drug use:
Be polite but firm and stand your ground.
Give reasons (E.g. I don’t want to, I have asthma, or I can’t afford it).
Talk about what’s important to you and tell your peers you don’t want to mess it up because of drugs (E.g. sports, dance, music, etc).
~ Government of Canada, National Anti-Drug Strategy, 2008
Bullying play travels to Turkey
For over a decade bullying in schools, and the struggle to keep children and youth protected from violence and emotional abuse, has been in headlines across the nation. With the amount of attention the issue gets in Canada, it is easy to forget that young people all over the world face harsh forms of bullying in their day-to-day lives, but without any resources to help them.
Turkey is a nation that is fairly new in its efforts to address bullying amongst school-aged children and youth. The first ever research on the topic was conducted in 2001 where the results of a survey given to 692 students indicated that 100% of the participants had been the victims of either physical, sexual, verbal or emotional bullying at least once during the academic year. The results of this survey and an entire study were published in 2006 at which time, the author noted, there were no education policies in place to deal with bullying.
However, the tide is turning and concerned citizens in Turkey are starting to tackle the issue with more focus and creativity. This past March, Mixed Company Theatre Associate Artist, Luciano Iogna, was invited to direct a Turkish translation of his hit anti-bullying play, Showdown, in Eskişehir, one of Turkey’s most contemporary cities, kicking off the 3rd Eskişehir International Children and Youth Theatre Festival. Showdown proved to be universal in its content, characters, and obstacles, allowing for easy and effective translation. Iogna’s production in Eskişehir received rave reviews and positive feedback from audiences and festival organizers alike.
Mixed Company Theatre is grateful for the opportunity to play a part in the campaign against bullying both at home and abroad through Showdown. The issue of bullying needs constant attention whether a community has been just begun addressing it or has been for many years.
Since 2002 approximately 70,000 students in southern Ontario have added their voices to the fight against bullying through Mixed Company Theatre’s interactive Forum Theatre method – and thanks to the kind invitation from our friends in Turkey we can add more!
For more information: 2007 report on bullying in Canada.
Showdown tours to Ontario schools October 1-31, 2008.
Introducing Maria Buzdon!
As Child and Youth Worker at St. Joseph’s College School in Toronto, ON, Maria Buzdon is the moderator for the Empowered Student Partnerships (ESP) committee at her school, sits on the Safe Schools Action Team, and coordinates the Violence Intervention & Prevention (VIP) and Cyber Safety Information (CSI) programs. “Student involvement in these initiatives,” Maria states, “provides the opportunity for students to be organizers, advocates, and leaders, and to work collaboratively with other students, teachers, parents and community members.”
Maria, a long-time supporter of Mixed Company Theatre, is a strong believer that education empowers youth, providing them with the opportunity to reach their full potential. This year Maria went above and beyond, using her connections within various organizations and communities to help Mixed Company Theatre recruit youth for our 2008 Youth Troupe.
Mixed Company Theatre (MXCO) sat down with Maria to discuss her “likes” and “dislikes” about school when she was growing up, her favourite movie, and why her Mom is her favourite educator.
MXCO: What did you enjoy most about school when you were growing up?
M.B: I loved the social aspects of school life, being challenged and discovering my own potential. Sports, drama and sociology were, without a doubt my favourite subjects.
MXCO: What did you enjoy least about school when you were growing up?
M.B: Having to wake up early, the cliques, tests, and the terrible fries in the cafeteria.
MXCO: What led you become a Child and Youth Worker?
M.B: As a teen, I discovered that I thoroughly enjoyed helping others. I was inspired to pursue this profession when I met two Child and Youth Workers at our neighbourhood community centre who established a drop-in for the youth with a recreational program and counseling services for youth in need. I was hired as Youth Leader and was responsible for running the sports and recreation activities at the drop-in.
MXCO: What is your favourite movie or book about education?
M.B: I loved Breakfast Club as a teen and I still enjoy it as an adult. I have shown it to our students who also thoroughly enjoy it and can relate to the issues that are presented. It is definitely a movie that anyone can relate to at any time, no matter how young or old.
MXCO: Who was favourite educator and why?
M.B: My favourite life educator was my Mom, Zita. She taught me about hope, character, faith and inner strength.
As Artistic Director of Mixed Company Theatre I am thrilled to announce that we will be embarking on a new capacity building journey with the support of the Ontario Trillium Foundation. Mixed Company has recently been awarded a grant of $120,000 over a three year period to focus on outreach and communications.
Over the last two years the staff and board have focused administrative efforts on updating our branding and marketing materials and are in an excellent position to broaden our outreach strategies to include more communities in the province. With this new project Mixed Company will be able to reach more Ontarians through targeted showcases of our work to school boards outside of the Toronto area, scholarships for youth to take part in our programming, professional development workshops for educators, and increased exposure to Mixed Company’s work through the media and online resources. We will be creating a Forum Theatre manual that can be used by community and education leaders who are often beyond our geographical reach.
Taking the planning and mentoring lead is Audience and Resource Development Specialist Lyn Royce, who will add fresh and innovative approaches to Mixed Company Theatre’s outreach that is twenty five years in the making! We look forward to working with her and expanding the presence and influence of Mixed Company’s unique Forum Theatre methods throughout Ontario.
Simon Malbogat, Artistic Director
Thank you to our generous supporters!