Theatre group tackles abuse


October 19, 2023 | Opinion | Volume 27 Issue 21
Barb Draper |
Theatre of the Beat performs ‘I Love You and it Hurts.’ (Photo by Cedric Martin)

Interactive theatre requires audience participation, explained Cedric Martin as he introduced “I Love You and It Hurts,” a Theatre of the Beat performance held at the Kitchener Public Library on September 30. “Don’t panic,” he added quickly, promising that no one would be coerced or shamed into participating.

“But, if you are uncomfortable, hold on to that,” he said. “There will be an opportunity to discuss it.”

“I Love You and It Hurts” consists of three short plays that explore themes of abuse within families and friendships. At the end of the first short play, “The Walkover,” set in a hockey dressing room, Martin asked the audience for reaction words to the play. Responses included “anxious” and “disrespect.”

Martin then asked the actors to go to the beginning of the scene while the audience, whom he referred to as “spect-actors,” were instructed to yell “stop” when they felt uncomfortable. It wasn’t long before someone from the audience called out and Martin persuaded that person to come on stage and ad lib the coach’s role. It was interesting to discover later that it was Mike Morrice, the local Member of Parliament, who had agreed to jump up on stage.

As the scene played out, the coach, Morrice, took more authority and tried to get the players to take responsibility for their actions. After several minutes, Martin stopped the action, asking each of the actors to express their feelings about the new scenario. Responding from the point of view of their characters, they admitted to some concern that if the most strident hockey player was smacked down too hard, he might overreact. But they felt the new coach was fair; he got everyone to express themselves without blaming each other for losing the game.

Martin had the play pick up at a later point in the script until someone else was uncomfortable enough to stop the action. Again, there was opportunity for discussion.

The second play, “Mother,” involved a daughter who takes advantage of her elderly mother. The first time through, the daughter’s abuse was very apparent, but having the scene replayed made it easier to see that the daughter had her own financial worries.

Following suggestions from the audience, the scene replay highlighted the mother’s dilemma. She depended on her daughter but feared alienating her by being confrontational. But neither could the mother allow funds to be transferred from her bank account without permission. Abuse is complicated.

The third play, “Be a Friend,” illustrated how young people can be trapped and torn as Rowan’s plans to be with her long-time best friend directly conflict with the intentions of her on-again boyfriend. Rowan’s discussion with her boyfriend the previous evening is played as a flashback scene, interspersed with the girls’ conversation as they justify their anger at each other. Meanwhile, Rowan suggests that a third friend move away from them, presumably so they can quarrel in private.

After someone from the audience was brave enough to play the role of the bystander and refused to move away, one of the actors commented that, as a result, they skipped some of the passive-aggressive conversations.

An audience member noted that, “when you see a friend in trouble, you need to be there and say something.”   

With energetic actors and engaged “spect-actors,” a clear message emerged. “I Love You and It Hurts” has now gone on the road and is travelling to Manitoba, Saskatchewan and B.C. before returning to Ontario in November.

Since its beginning in 2011, Theatre of the Beat has been working at ways to encourage conversations about social justice. The theatre company began developing these three plays in 2021, choosing the topics with advice from the Assaulted Women’s Helpline and Women’s Crisis Services of Waterloo Region. Community workshops allowed the writing team to gain insights and flesh out the themes. 

Theatre of the Beat performs ‘I Love You and it Hurts.’ (Photo by Cedric Martin)

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