On June 3rd SExT had the pleasure of performing for Jane Street Hub as part of their Community Info Fair, highlighting sexual health as well as health and wellness in the African, Caribbean, Black, and Latino communities. The event included resources, community services, workshops, counsellors, performances (wink-wink), and anonymous testing for STIs. Having a safe space for conversations on these stigmatized topics such as STIs and mental health, and having it be accessible to everyone, is so incredibly important. I would like to thank the organizers for this.
Performing a poem on stereotypes, rapping about cultural identity, and talking about consent and STI testing (among other things) is always very powerful in itself, but having people come up to us afterwards sharing how they relate to our show is absolutely amazing. People wanting us to perform at more community events and speaking up about these issues is liberating and a great reminder of why we at SExT are all so passionate about our message of inclusivity and acceptance.
Our group also attended a session on stigma, and let me tell you, I could never get tired of listening to my peers share their stories about stigma. One cast member shared his account of navigating his mental health with his father, who at first didn’t understand, and is now the one to advocate to his own friends about mental health resources. As I listened to the people in the room open up, the air got lighter with each person’s story being told. Seeing this kind of environment being fostered gives me hope that one day everyone can find comfort and liberation in being able to share their own experiences.
After the session on stigma, we listened to a panel of five brave individuals speak about being HIV positive. Let’s just say it got real deep. Hearing the personal accounts of a young woman born with HIV, a gay man having to keep his sexuality a secret, and a trans woman’s story about accepting her HIV, is so inspiring. Hearing their accounts of the stigma they have experienced and their journeys overcoming it, is so freaking inspiring. One of the women on the panel even took an HIV test in front of us to demonstrate how easy the process is and to encourage others to take charge of their health and get tested. She encouraged others to reclaim their power, to be knowledgeable about their sexual health, and not to stay hidden in shame. I was able to witness the stories of those who suffered in secret, now opening themselves up to a room of strangers. I don’t know how on earth they did it, but I’m so happy they did. I know many people in the room found hope from hearing these stories coming from people sitting right in front of them, smiling and proud of who they have become.
As the discussion of stigma continued, I got to hear more cast members open up. One person spoke of his experience about being gay and adopted. Another shared her story of having depression and trying to understand why her mom doesn’t understand. Her mother grew up in a different country in a different time, and might have even dealt with mental illness herself not knowing what it was. More people opened up about a great range of stigma they have faced, and hearing that everyone has a story is a forceful truth. Some people cried, because it was moving, you know? It was helpful to see people who had overcome stigma now living life on their own terms. Everyone on the panel agreed they are living better by not caring what others say about who they are, by not giving in to the stigma, and by speaking out about their experiences.
The host also shared a story about the stigma surrounding her hair. She explained how she had been wearing straight hair since she was 12 years old. She spent a lot of time growing it out, and the day came when she said, “Okay, I’m going to do my hair today”. She spent over a day on it, and looked in the bathroom mirror feeling fabulous. She came out of the bathroom and her boyfriend said, “Oh, I thought you were going to do your hair.” Everyone in the room gasped and I saw slacked jaws, in utter shock. The host just laughed and said all that was needed was to have a discussion about it, and it was a very good discussion. She learned that his mom never wore her hair natural, his sister always had straight hair, and all his girlfriends wore their hair straight. The point is that some people don’t even know they are perpetuating stigma. We just need to educate them.
I feel like this is where SExT can come in. The reason I love our show so much is because it is not our place to judge, but to educate using our stories and allow people to be free to choose as they wish. As our director Shira always says: If everyone agreed on everything, our program wouldn’t need to exist.
When it comes to stigma, we can all do our best to not perpetuate it and to educate ourselves. Hearing everyone's stories at Jane Street Hub is an experience I will hold close to my heart, and I will always remember moments like this when we were able to discuss stigmatized topics such as sexual health in a safe space. Respectful discussion really is that powerful. I know I talked about some “heavier” topics, but the event was really fun as well! Although there were some tears, there was lots of laughter as well and great energy. Being able to express ourselves and having people support it means everything in the world.
Anyone in any group can experience stigma, and it is important that we do not give in to stigma and rise above it. I know, so mushy, but it’s true. When we all come together and have a respectful discussion without shutting down opposing views and instead giving everyone a voice, that is when real change happens. That is what I hope we can accomplish with SExT.
- Post by Emma Wheaton, Assistant Director & SExT Cast Member
SExT is thrilled to be partnering with Ophea to deliver FREE theatre performances created and performed by youth for youth for GTA secondary schools connecting to H&PE, Drama and Language studies! Performances run May 10 – 26 at the Factory Theatre and a stipend is available to support transportation costs.
Limited spots still available! Sign your school group up now: https://www.ophea.net/node/6846
SExT is proud to be the keynote performance at the 2017 Youth Sexual Health Research Symposium: Fight Forward, Fight Back. The symposium aims to bring together youth and university students to share their research and artistic pieces on youth sexual health.
Youth Sexual Health Research Symposium: Fight Forward, Fight Back
Thursday March 16th, 2017
9:30 AM - 4:30 PM
William Doo Auditorium, 45 Willcocks Street, Toronto, ON
This is a FREE and PUBLIC symposium!
For directions and the full conference program, see utgaap.com and/or RSVP on the official Facebook event: https://www.facebook.com/events/589830597887357/
For registration and other inquiries, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org
We hope you are able to join us! :)
We know what social media is saying: 2016 was a bad year. We lost music legends and film stars, mourned victims of war, political unrest and hate crimes, and there has been an increase in violence and hate speech. Even The Walking Dead is bringing us down to emotional depths we've never experienced before (DAMN YOU NEGAN).
Perhaps SExT came out when the world needed hope the most, because 2016 was by far our strongest year. In 2016 SExT grew from a get-together in a small room at the the Flemingdon Health Centre to a semi-private show at Marc Garneau Collegiate Institute that sparked a passionate debate about consent among the students, to a critically-acclaimed Toronto Fringe and Summerworks phenomenon. The grants we received from the Michaëlle Jean Foundation, the Toronto Arts Council, and the Ontario Arts Council enabled us to grow as a production and enlist the help of several local professionals to put on a show that received a "NNNN" review and Critic's Pick from NOW Magazine and a Best Ensemble recognition from The Torontoist. We performed for Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne whose emotional response to the show left us validated and inspired to continue our work to reach ever larger audiences. Recently, Toronto Mayor John Tory dropped by our rehearsal to pump us up for our performance at the Willowdale Winter Fest.
SExT began three years ago as a dialogue among high school students who wanted to talk about sexuality as it related to them and their communities. When creator Shira Taylor first came to Marc Garneau Collegiate, she was told that she would have a hard time amassing a group of students who would be interested in this project. Now the SExT family is stronger than ever and after our most exciting year yet, we are ready for more exciting ventures to continue in 2017. Stay tuned! And Happy New Year! :)
- Post by Elena Juatco, SExT Creative Facilitator
Have you missed us? We miss you! We are performing at the World AIDS Day event at the William Doo Auditorium on the U of T campus tonight (Monday, November 28th). Come by and say hi!
Hosted by The Gendering Adolescent AIDS Project (GAAP), The Empower Peer Youth HIV Mentorship Program, New College and the University of Toronto Women and Gender Studies Institute, World AIDS Day is back.
World AIDS Day is an opportunity to mark the history of HIV/AIDS as an epidemic as well as a cultural marker. This event will feature an arts based HIV workshop from the Empower youth, as well as a community arts fair featuring several different local grass roots arts education focused HIV education organizations each offering a mini-arts workshop.
Empower Youth HIV Workshop: 5-6:30
Community Art Fest: 6:00 - 8:00
Light refreshments will be provided. Registration is needed either through the eventbrite, or by messaging the event host to confirm. Please specify if you will be attending the workshop, the arts fest, or both. Spaces are limited.
The William Doo Auditorium is at 45 Willcocks Street, in the basement of the New College Residence. Enter the William Doo Auditorium through the door at the Southeast corner of Willcocks Street & Spadina Avenue. It is accessible by elevator.
Nearly three years ago, I walked into one of Toronto’s most diverse and populated high schools with the crazy idea of making sex education more comprehensive, relevant, and impactful, by finding a group of youth willing to sing and dance about it. Last month, I sat next to the Premier of Ontario as we watched a group of the bravest and most dedicated humans I know sing and dance a packed house through everything from periods to chlamydia and homophobia to multiculturalism, eliciting belly laughs and quiet tears.
It is challenging to adequately articulate what the experience of creating and sharing SExT: Sex Education by Theatre has meant to me and the youth involved.
I could tell you about my first visit to Marc Garneau Collegiate Institute, located in an immigration destination of Toronto. How I asked a young male student what he thought of my idea and how he responded that no girl in this religious community would be willing to talk about sex. How his comment led me to a girls’ gym class where a young girl interrupted my spiel by shooting her hand up to say that she wanted in. How her enthusiasm spread throughout the class and how I filled every scrap of paper in my purse with the contact information of young women craving a space to talk openly about these issues, and maybe even sing about them. I could try to describe the feeling of seeing that same girl lighting up the stage three years later, confidently and poetically speaking her truths on mental health, racism, and challenging stereotypes.
I could tell you about the first application I read, written by a girl who spoke of an intense passion for dance, but a lack of access to training - a common issue in the community. How she wrote of teaching herself to dance and offering free dance lessons to other youth at the library. I could describe the joy in the room this summer, when a dancer from the Toronto Raptors came in as a guest artist. How that same girl took the lead on choreographing a cultural dance scene, created to showcase the beauty of diversity and the struggle of identity.
I could tell you how in one of our first workshops, I made the mistake of giving the teens free reign to create a scene on pregnancy options. How this error led me to develop a new, more structured drama exercise, challenging the youth to put themselves in the shoes of a pregnant teen, her mom, and boyfriend. How one charismatic boy volunteered to play the pregnant girl. How after that exercise, the students expressed new understandings and empathy for the perspectives of teen mothers and their parents.
I could tell you about the day every student insisted on staying late to ask as many questions as they could of the opposite gender. How I laughed to myself as I recalled the resistance I had encountered in insisting this program be open to all genders.
I could tell you about that week back in July 2014 when we pulled together our first performance. How I had been advised to expect a high drop-out rate and to accept 15 students into the program if I wanted a cast of 10. How I finished the school-year 19 students strong. How half of youth participants got full time jobs or enrolled in summer school, but not one dropped out. How one group would rehearse from 9 to 5, and the other group would come straight from a full day of work/school to rehearse into the late hours of the evening. How some students chose to stay for 12 hour days. How many of the youth were fasting at this time in observing Ramadan. How we lacked access to rehearsal space over the weekend, so the youth insisted on meeting in valleys and parking lots to rehearse, even in the pouring rain.
I could tell you about the message I received during frosh week from a young man saying that he “didn’t get laid” because of our consent scene. How his experience developing that scene gave him pause when it came to an encounter with a girl too intoxicated to consent. How the program played a role in helping another cast member leave a dangerous situation. How that same cast member insisted on courageously and safely channeling her experience into a song that, when performed at her high school, led another young girl in the audience to come forward to her teacher about an abusive situation.
I could tell you that I secretly shared the youth performers’ insecurities regarding how our performance would be received at their high school, among peers who didn’t choose to attend. How I watched as an audience of high school students laughed hysterically as Captain Condom and Hipster Herpes took the stage, muttered with recognition as a scene on homophobia at home was performed partially in Urdu, and debated passionately after a court case scene tackling consent was left open-ended. How a number of youth reported that this performance changed their views on gay and trans people and sexual assault. How all of this took place steps away from the hub of the protests opposing sex education reform in the wake of the first curriculum update in Ontario since 1998.
I could tell you about the feeling of having our show accepted into the Toronto Fringe and SummerWorks, two of Canada’s largest performance festivals. About finding out that I had been selected to receive a TD Michaëlle Jean Foundation Bursary to continue this work. How we received project funding from the Toronto and Ontario Arts Councils. How this funding provided the opportunity to expose the youth to a number of guest artists to enrich their development. How our little show took the big festival stage by storm, receiving rave reviews from established theatre critics (4 stars, Critic’s Pick, Best Ensemble - NOW Magazine; Exceptional Ensemble - The Torontoist) and was commended for bringing diversity to the Toronto stage and showing what young people are capable of. How the youth eloquently shared intimate insights into their personal challenges and triumphs with entire audiences in our post-performance question and answer periods. How a number of audience members reached out to express that the show “restored their faith in humanity” and “gave them hope” at a difficult time in our world. How one guy in the cast texted me to say thank you for “helping me do something that I am actually proud of.”
I could tell you how even after all of these experiences, our post-show celebration after the Premier’s attendance last month turned into an impromptu workshop. How one cast member hugged another as she described the homophobia she faces at home. How one-by-one, cast members at the table opened up about insecurities and romantic struggles. How each person’s story was met with support and advice from members of the SExT family we have now become, thanks to the power of art and open minds.
I could describe all of these experiences in detail. Maybe one day I’ll write a book…or better yet, actually write my PhD dissertation. But for now, I will leave you with this selfie of an inspired and empowered group of young people with Kathleen Wynne, the Premier of Ontario, taken seconds after our youngest cast member almost knocked the Premier over with her condom hat, and minutes after the Premier addressed the entire audience, exclaiming through tears that she agrees every student should experience this.
- Post by Shira Taylor, SExT Creator and Director
*This post was originally posted on Art For Social Change.
Premier Kathleen Wynne's emotional response to SExT was captured on camera by our very own cast member, Thuriga Balasubramaniam, who put together a vlog to share that exciting day with you all. Enjoy!
Today we performed at the One More Night Festival and had a very special guest in the audience!
One year after the SExT pilot program came to Marc Garneau Collegiate Institute, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne introduced the new sex education curriculum to schools in 2015, 17 years after the curriculum's last update in 1998. The new curriculum tackles topics not previously taught in schools including cyberbullying, healthy relationships, consent, homophobia, and gender identity; all topics covered by SExT and touched upon in our show. It was an honour to finally perform for her and thank her for her ongoing commitment to youth education. After our performance, the Premier had some very kind words to say, and we are grateful that the cameras were rolling!
Thank you so much Premier Wynne for taking time out of your busy schedule to come see our show, for acknowledging how important this work is, and for saying that schools need to see this. We are fans!
We have officially opened at the Summerworks Festival in Toronto and we want to see you there! We only have 3 shows left so don't miss us!
SUMMERWORKS - Factory Studio Theatre at 125 Bathurst Street
August 10 @ 7:45 PM
August 11 @ 9:15 PM
August 12 @ 6:00 PM
Be sure to check our Facebook page (and "like us" while you're there!) for more amazing pictures taken by the lovely Dahlia Katz of our opening night show.
This one right now is our favourite of the day:
Yup. That's where babies come from, kids. Confused? SEE OUR SHOW!!!
It's always good to be humble. But OMG the papers are telling everyone that we are a must-see at Summerworks and we are glowing with pride!
The Toronto Star's Top 10 Picks for Summerworks ... BOOM!
BlogTO's 5 must-see shows to see at Summerworks ... BOOM!
NOW Magazine's top highlights of the Toronto Fringe Festival ... BOOM!
We open at Summerworks this Sunday ... 3 more days! See y'all there!
Welcome to the SExT blog!
This is where we share our insights and stories about sex, healthy relationships, and getting our show from the rehearsal hall to opening night. Contributors include SExT collaborators and cast members.
We want YOU to contribute!
Have a great idea for a blog post? We want to hear from you! Email us here!