Dear Mr. Ford,
I got to vote last week! I can finally check that off my bucket list. It was actually pretty easy, just marking down an “X” on the paper – no trick questions. I didn’t know how fast the results would pour in though, and if I’m being honest, the outcome wasn’t exactly what I was hoping for. I say this because of your proposed repeal of the new sex-ed curriculum.
I’m not just any person writing about what sex education means to me. I’m a youth from the Flemingdon and Thorncliffe Park neighbourhood of Toronto, a community where the new sex-ed curriculum caused a lot of uproar and I’ve seen first-hand the impact of the sex-ed protests. I know that more than 200 elementary school children were taken out of school as a way for their parents to make a statement of their disagreement. I know this because I used to work as an after-school program leader in the community. I know this because some of them were kids from my program. When their friends would ask me, “Sara, why isn’t so-and-so here today? They weren’t here yesterday or the day before too,” what could I say back? I wasn’t allowed to say what I wanted to say to them back then, but I’ll say it now.
I respect that parents should be able to teach their children whatever they want, and I respect the people in my community who have made their decisions on the curriculum. As a Bengali-Canadian child born and raised in Canada, the cultural shame that comes with talking about the body (a taboo topic) conflicts with my own curiosity and access to knowledge as a Canadian student. I have never in my life gotten the “birds and the bees” talk from my parents. In fact, they’ve never really talked about anything sex-related at all, except about periods, and that’s just with my mom. But how do I know so much about sex if it wasn’t through school? Because kids talk. A LOT. Plus, there's the power of a simple Google search. Even if a parent never discussed the topic of sex with their child, it would be impossible for that child living in today's world to not know anything about it. Even if that child managed to avoid sex education, the result would be dangerous. My Grade 12 teacher had a question box for her Grade 9s to write down any question regarding sex-ed because she didn’t want them to rely on the internet for answers. She told us that one student's question was, “What is sex?” She then proceeded by saying, “God forbid he/she ever gets raped or they wouldn’t even know what happened to them.”
Let’s pretend for just a minute that rape and sexual assault don’t happen. It’s a real danger that no one should have to go through. Well the same thing goes for sexting, cyberbullying and suicide. If students are not taught about these things, how will they know who they can turn to, what their resources are, and how to protect themselves?
The sex-ed curriculum isn’t just about sex, it's about physical and mental health. “SExT: Sex Education by Theatre” is a project created by PhD student Shira Taylor as a way to incorporate sex education, along with other stigmatized topics, with the use of theatre. The topics include consent, abusive/healthy relationships, stereotypes, mental health and LGBTQ+ issues which are addressed using comedy, music, dance, and spoken word to eliminate the discomfort surrounding these concepts. As a peer educator from the Flemingdon and Thorncliffe Park community, I thought it was important to not only learn and educate myself, but to speak out on these types of subjects as a way of starting a conversation in a less threatening way (rather than in a classroom setting).
What we want to promote is a comprehensive educational approach, to teach with love and acceptance, not by fear. We can’t stop the flow of information, but what we can do is spread the right information safely.
Yes, learning the biology of the human body is important. But what about the emotions and feelings that come with our growing and changing bodies while we figure out who we are? We learn in school that the human brain does not fully develop until age 21, so does it really make sense to promote the concept of “ABSTINENCE IS KEY, DON'T HAVE SEX” to a bunch of people who make rash decisions due to their late prefrontal cortex development? Because when you’re told not to do something, chances are you’re going to do it anyways.
We want to work with you these next 4 years of your term to educate and protect youth. These are our peers, our friends, our siblings; and we want the best for them, as do you, I’m sure. Before you make any decisions about what to do about the new sex-ed curriculum, I urge you to watch our show for yourself. I want you to see the audience go crazy with laughter. I want you to hear their silence when we talk about abusive relationships. I want you to see their excitement when we use popular dance moves to rap about consent. I want you to see what we’re all about, first.
That being said, I would like to formally invite you to a viewing of our show, “SExT: Sex Education by Theatre” because it’s time for teens to give the talk. I really do hope you take us up on this offer.
Sara Ahmed with the Cast of SExT
May 29th, 2018 - Île à la Crosse & Beauval
We awoke later than usual, thanks to the school being a whole 5 minutes away. The night before we had fallen asleep to cloudy cotton candy skies with flashes of lightning in the distance. Thuriga spent the night taking videos while a wild dog lay at her feet. We were prepared for our next 2-show day.
You know how on TV, sometimes a character will be in love with a musician or a show, and then by the end of the episode they get to go on tour with them? So unrealistic right? Well, that's what happened to me.
As a cast member of SExT, I am required to know information about STIs, mental health, healthy relationships, etc., but before becoming a peer educator and going national, I think I’m obligated to talk about our roots and where we come from.
Lesson 1: All Hamzas are Late.
Elena and Shira kept gushing over how this big shot actor dude was going to come to our rehearsal and teach us something. I never heard of him or saw him. His first impression wasn’t good since he was late. Not awfully late, but still late. All people named Hamza are always late (Cardinal Rule #1). That’s okay though; if a Hamza in your life is early, something is terribly wrong.
So I've been numb for a few days. Honestly most of the news makes me numb, so much that I usually avoid the news when I can. But the van attack that happened in Toronto this week that killed 10 people and injured 16 (most of whom were women) has stirred something in me. Basically ... I'm pissed.
SExT: Sex Education by Theatre came together because of Shira Taylor, a PhD candidate out of the University of Toronto, deciding to focus her thesis on using the arts to give youth the tools, information and voices they need to educate themselves and each other on the various topics of Sex Ed. More importantly, SExT gave my community (Toronto’s Thorncliffe/ Flemingdon Park) the chance to decide what was important to us, and how we wanted to communicate those learnings back to our community.
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.
We here at SExT love supporting similar-minded projects that aim to spark dialogue about sexual health and healthy relationships within the community. Nuance is a project by NU which strives to create a space for diverse stories (blogs, art, poetry) about sex and sexual health that bring in cultural and religious perspectives from Newcomer, Immigrant and Second Generation Youth (NISY).
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).
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.
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!
Before this show debuted at the Toronto Fringe, SExT had a few semi-private shows for the youth at Flemingdon Park. The scene that resonated the most with audiences was one about domestic violence, performed and created by Mary Getachew, Saad Ilyas, and Michelle Nyamekye. After one of these performances, a young audience member approached a teacher about that scene in particular and asked for help. I’d like to think there were more who also did the same.
Can we get a "HELL YA!" to all the female directors, writers and creators at this year's Fringe Festival?!
Thank you to Alysa Pires, Polynomials, and Derrick Chua for counting the 81 shows at this year's Fringe Festival written, created, directed, and choreographed by over 138 women!
Why is it important that we keep track of this? Last year the Globe and Mail cited under 35% of women in key creative roles in Canadian theatre with only 22% of female playwrights with productions in the previous season. Women account for less than 25% of Canada's produced playwrights even thought they form half the membership of Playwrights Guild of Canada.
And while the female voice is under-represented, women still form the majority of theatre-school graduates, support workers and audience members. Women are not the ones in control of their stories.
This is why the #FringeFemmeTO list is important. And I am proud to say that "SExT" is ON THAT LIST!
Here's a run down of the women with key creative and production titles in our show:
Our cast of 13 has 8 women of which 7 are also of a visible minority. The cast has also created this show with Shira Taylor, meaning these women are also writers and choreographers.
I've been directed by two women in my theatre career. I am actively looking for more women to work with because I can tell the difference when there is no female voice in the rehearsal hall. I have been shut down in rehearsals for "thinking about it too much" when I asked a question and then reassured with "the purpose of your character is to serve [male character's name here]'s storyline." I've read scripts that have offended me as a woman, particularly as a woman belonging to a visible minority. I've also experienced sexual harassment at work because a male director wanted me to understand "who this woman is". There was not a single woman on the creative team when this happened and nobody else made a complaint except me. I felt alone and quite frankly, powerless.
WE NEED MORE FEMALE DIRECTORS. WRITERS. CREATORS. It is my goal to prioritize all the shows on the #FemmeTO list ... it should be yours too! So take a look at the list below (as compiled by Derrick Chua) and Happy Fringe-ing!
A Bitter Shrew (late addition, replaces Soul’s Retrograde on p. 21). By Gillian English
A Good Death (p. 18). By Shelley Hobbs
A Lover Improper (p. 62). By Arianne Shaffer
A Thousand Kindnesses (p. 18). By Rachel Jury
All KIDding Aside (p. 18). By Christel Bartelse
Alpha Delta 86 (p. 50). By Kiva Murphy and Filipa Mendes
Angels & Aliens (p. 60). Co-written by Sydney Hayduk
Asiansploitation: Be More Pacific (p. 58). Co-written by Tiffany Kwan, Ellie Posadas
Birthday Cake (p. 62). By Sarah Marchand
Bright Lights (p. 14). By Kat Sandler
Cam Baby (p. 66). By Jessica Moss
Candy & Shelley Go to the Desert (p. 52). By Paula Cizmar
Common Ground (p. 54). By Susan Magerman and Michelle Brightman
Curious Contagious (p. 66). By Chloe Ziner and Jessica Gabriel
Damn Tank (p. 66). Co-written by Maaor Ziv
Dance Animal: Toronto (p. 14). With monologues by Robin Henderson, Kat Letwin, Allison Price, Carol Zoccoli. Created and choreographed by Robin Henderson.
Dario et la Diablesse: A Caribbean Musical (p. 24). Written by Sasky Louison
Daughters of Feminists (p. 74). Created / songs by Barbara Johnston, Suzy Wilde, Anika Johnson, Nancy White
Denmarked (p. 50). Adapted by Carina Gaspar
Downtown Jay (p. 11). By Joan Jamieson
Eraser (p. 74). Co-written by Christol Bryan, Deanna Galati, Victoria Gubiani
Everything Else Is Sold Out (p. 54). Co-written by Claire Farmer, Jessica Greco, Shannon Lahaie
Evolution / Mr. Truth (p. 26). Evolution choreographed by Angela Blumberg. Mr. Truth written by Lauren Gillis and Alaine Hutton
Exterminating Angel (p. 24). Choreographed by Alysa Pires
Falling Awake (p. 18). Co-written by Nayana Fielkov
False Start (p. 52). By Nicole Hrgetic
Far Away (p. 60). By Caryl Churchill, choreographed by Patricia Allison
For the Record (p. 72). By Shari Hollett
Fractals (p. 62). By Krista White
Game 7 (p. 58). Co-written by Magdalena BB
Getting Odd (p. 68). By Holly Wyder and Allison Harris
God of Carnage (p. 55). By Yasmina Reza
Happiness™ (p. 61). Co-written by Madeleine Boyes-Manseau
How May I Mate You? (p. 61). By Jenna Naulls, Kelsey Wilkinson and Kelsey Johnston
I Want to Be (p. 11). Book by Alex Karolyi. Music & Lyrics co-written by Lisa Sonshine
In Gods We Trust (p. 24). Co-written by Satinder Besrai, Kerri Salata, with further material co-written by Diane Baker Mason
(in)decision (p. 26). Co-written by Tamlynn Bryson
lza the Brave (p. 11). Co-written by Amaka Umeh, Jada Rifkin, Micaela Comeau, Maiza Dubhé, Samantha Chaulk, Sarah Marchand
Knots (p. 67). Co-written by Lucy Meanwell
Life After (p. 61). By Britta Johnson
Like a Fly in Amber (p. 15). By Karen Kelm
Little Fires (p. 67). Choreographed by Karíssa Fyrrar, Lucy Rupert
Little Pricks (p. 54). By Denise Norman
Lyricas Presents: Creature Slaying... (p. 55). Co-written by Elisha DiFabio
Man & Son: Ladies First (p. 55). By Felicity Penman and Carolyn Williamson
#MannequinGirl: The Musical (p. 50). By Eliza Blue Musselwhite in collaboration with Alyssa Minichillo
My silly yum! (p. 11). By Alexandra Montagnese and Gabriela Petrov
Perk up, pianist! (p. 20). By Sarah Hagen
Persephone (p. 55). Co-collectively created by Claren Grosz, Jacklyn Francis, Laura Hayes, Sydney Herauf, Keshia Palm, Sheree Spencer
Pirates Don't Babysit! (p. 12). By Barb Scheffler
Plays In Cates (p. 73). Co-written by Alex Karolyi, Sheila Toller
Promise and Promiscuity: A New Musical (p. 26). By Jane Austen and Penny Ashton
Rated R (p. 26). Choreographed by Aria Evans
Saor (Free) (p. 19). By Carlyn Rhamey
#scarecrow (p. 59). By Chantel McDonald
Scenes from Plays I Never Wrote (p. 61). By Greta Papageorgiu
Self-Exile p. 21). By Nisha Coleman
SExT (p. 51). Created by Shira Taylor
Shecky's Yoga Sequel (p. 72). Co-written by Shana Sandler
Silk Bath (p. 15). Co-written by Bessie Chang, Gloria Mok
Songbuster ·An Improvised Musical (p. 27). Co-created by Stephanie Malek, Ashley Comeau, Tricia Black, Alexandra Hurley
That Joyce Girl (p. 67). By Kate Cattell-Daniels
The End (p. 51). By Miriam Drysdale
The Fence (p. 27). By Anika Johnson, Barbara Johnston, Suzy Wilde, choreographed by Honey Frid, Danielle Devereaux
The Funky Punckies (p. 12). By Stavria Thalassi & Katarina Lazic
The Stage Manager's Guide to Dating Assholes (p. 15). By Scarlett Larry
The Unending - 3 short plays (p. 73). Co-written by Julie Tepperman
To Jane With Love (p. 25). By Deon Denton
Tonight's Cancelled (p. 51). Co-written by Stacey McGunnigle
True Blue (late addition, replaces Mieux Vaut Mourir Heureux on page 59). Co-created / improvised by Amy Matysio, Aurora Browne, Paloma Nuñez, Shanda Bezic, Jocelyn Geddie
(un)boxed (p. 51). Created by Jannine Saarinen, featuring the work of Jen Hum, Lisa Quaning, Jamee Valin
Waiting For Waiting For Godot (p. 25). Co-written by Molly McGregor
Wasteland (p. 27). Co-written by Kaitlin Morrow
Water Wonders (p. 75). By Cheryl McNamara
We Are XX (p. 63). By Rafia Salam, Anne Vo and Samay Arcentales
What?! You're A Medium?! (p. 53). By Carolyn Molnar
Wild/Society (p. 15). By Mika Laulainen
Wireless Connection (p. 25). Choreographed by Amy Adams, Kylie Thompson
Women (p. 51). By Chiara Atik
YellowZoned (p. 63). By Alia Ettienne
"Ze". queer as f*ck! (p. 21). By Michelle Lunicke
- Post by Elena Juatco - Actor & Creative Facilitator
We are less than two weeks away from debuting at the Toronto Fringe Festival, and we have a bunch of blogs that I wanted to post, but I feel it impossible to move forward until we address the recent events in the news.
Amidst a scandal revealed by Oscar-nominated film The Hunting Ground where ivy league universities are concealing on-campus rapes to the police and condoning the behaviours of students that commit repeated sexual assaults, a letter from a Stanford graduate to her rapist has gone viral (read it here). A former Stanford freshman who raped an unconscious woman behind a dumpster was sentenced to a mere 6 months in jail. The judge feared that a longer sentence might have a "severe impact on him" and his possible Olympic career. The rapist's father stated that his son should not have to go to prison for "20 minutes of action". The judge and this father clearly have no idea that rape affects the survivor's life too. A victim of rape is pushed aside and made to feel less important once again.
Less than a week ago, a man entered a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida and killed 49 people, making it the largest mass shooting in US history. To this day, politicians and others are refusing to call this a hate crime. The LGBTQ community is suffering once again.
Where do we go from here? We are literally killing each other because we are losing touch with what makes us human. We are shutting off from each other instead of coming together and growing stronger. It is easier to hate than to love and instead of trying to understand each other, we grow angry. Our society does not want to acknowledge or discuss the fact that we live in a culture where rape and assault is condoned.
I am saying "we" because it is time to take responsibility for what is happening. The left wing blames the right wing. The right blames the left. The atheists blame religion. The religions blame each other. The people blame the government. Minorities grow more divided and we become obsessed with blaming something: the parenting, the lack of parenting, the kids at school, the TV, video games, the music, the gays, the straights, the gun holders, the schools, alcohol ... we are not putting the blame and responsibility where it belongs: us. ME. What can I do so this stops happening?
Read the Stanford survivor's letter and know the people who were killed in Orlando. Speak up when someone calls something "gay" or when you see someone who may need your help. Know what "consent" means (sober and enthusiastic!). Talk about what is going on with the people around you. March in the Pride Parade this month whether you are queer, straight, white, black, Asian, Islamic, Christian, Atheist, Buddhist, Jewish, Muslim ... show that these kind of attacks affect all of us.
This is the reason why I wanted to be a part of SExT. Because I am not happy with how we are treating each other. There is a deep hatred of women and a deep hatred of LGBTQ that exists and it needs to be addressed and extinguished. This kind of hatred exists when we don't understand. So we need to start young and we need to teach this in our schools. Math is important but how we treat each other is how we survive as a human race.
Let's move forward from this but let's not forget.
- Post by Elena Juatco, Actor & SExT Creative Facilitator
What is acting?
Acting is pretending to be someone else. Acting is stepping into someone else’s shoes and walking around in them for a while - for a scene, for a song, for a dance. Acting uses your imagination. It’s creating an entire life and story for someone that isn’t yourself.
When I am given a character to play, I ask myself: What does this person want and how do I connect with that? I start with what I know. I’ve played a mother but have never had a child; though I do know what it is like to love someone fiercely and need to protect them (I also have a dog who is the center of my being). I’ve played a doctor but have never gone through med school, and yet I do know what it’s like to work hard for something and be passionate about what you do. Before I know it, I’ve created a whole world and a whole life for this character that is rooted in something that is honest and truthful to me because I invested in the character and I used my imagination. The emotions I feel are real. I love all the characters I play (yes, even the bad guys!).
Acting is therefore an exercise in empathy. It helps us understand each other. It challenges us to put away our judgements and really think about another person’s wants, fears, insecurities, and dreams. When we understand each other, we accept each other for our differences. If we are not willing to do this, we grow fearful and resentful of what we do not know and this leads to hatred and violence.
This is why I think theatre and the Arts are essential in high school. We can learn historical facts and memorize data from a book, but what we miss out on is the capacity to understand ourselves and one another as human beings.
Science saves lives but the Arts are what we live for.
I am passionate about SExT because I believe that we as a society can do better. I hate what I read in the news. I’ve seen bullying, harassment and domestic violence on the streets and people afraid to intervene or speak up. I know too many people in controlling and/or abusive relationships. The youth want to talk about sex. We as a society are silencing them and shaming them and this is what leads to unhealthy expressions of sex: violence against women, bullying, homophobia, and self harm. I have seen first hand what the power of acting has done for the youth at SExT. These young performers’ abilities to empathize with each other, see a different point of view, and then speak out about it inspires me. If they are able to do this, what are the rest of us capable of?
Comment below and tell us what acting teaches you that books don't!
- Post by Elena Juatco, Actor & SExT Creative Facilitator
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