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My Journey with SExT (from the point of view of Isfan)

Introducing our new stage manager for the SExT 2018 National Tour .... Isfandyar!!!

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.

So back in 2014, in my last year of high school, this person who we now call our “Jewish Mother” came to our school to make this idea in her brain become a reality. She introduced herself as Shira Taylor and said she was doing her PhD (Pretty Hopeless Dream … JK FAM) and that she needed high school students. Now some of us, including myself, had some doubts about this. We were 100% sure that in few days she would get tired of us and leave, or cancel the program like most programs would have been back then. But my group of friends still decided to give it a shot. We just wanted to joke around. The first workshop had a lot people. When I arrived, it looked pretty packed. But like every other thing that happened in high school, I expected the population to drop significantly by the second week. “Jewish Mother” did some workshops with us and got our honest feedback. As young high school kids, we were a bit rowdy and would joke around and wouldn’t take 99% of the things seriously. However, she would still make us do these skits based on all the workshops we did with her. We were learning about the issues we now cover in our show, but at the time we didn’t even know we would be acting on huge stages in the near future. So we would make the weirdest and the funniest skits to just make each other laugh a lot. A while goes by, and then Shira announces how legit we are and how we will be performing at the Ontario Science Centre. People like me, who had with huge stage anxiety, were happy for the cast, but had full anxiety about going onstage. See, not everyone had experience presenting in front of a crowd let alone acting in a show for our peers and educating them about sex-ed and other issues that we covered in our workshops. As weeks went by, Shira prepped us more and more for this show. On the day of the performance, some of us were freaking out as stage anxiety was kicking in. Even though it was our first show and most of us had no prior experiences performing on a stage, the show was a banger. It went great and I had just overcome one of my biggest fears of performing on a stage for a crowd.

"Now some of us, including myself, had some doubts about this. We were 100% sure that in a few days she would get tired of us and leave, or cancel the program like most programs would have been back then. But my group of friends still decided to give it a shot."

After the show was done, we were left with a lot of important information in our head and we had a choice to make: either we follow the message we tried to convey in the show, or not. Soon after our first show at the Ontario Science Centre, some of us graduated and moved on with our lives. Some of us pursued higher education such as university or college. Well, I decided to take the university path and in my first week of FROSH, I found myself in a dilemma. Basically, a girl who was drunk really wanted to have intercourse with me. Normally that would've been good enough and I would’ve said "yes" and moved on. However, I learned in SExT that even though the drunk girl is telling me that she wants to bang in the washroom, she's still drunk and cannot make that call nor can she give me her actual consent. So I decided to back off. I said to her, “Hey, you’re pretty attractive and I’m flattered, but you’re drunk and you can’t give me your actual consent. We can talk about this later when you sober up." This is when I really realized that SExT helped me make informed decisions about topics which generally wouldn’t be covered in a normal high school sex-ed class, and it changed my understanding of these situations on a deeper level. Throughout university, a lot of situations like this would come up, not just to me but to my friends too, and I would educate them on how to make more informed decisions, and if they decided to do it, I would go out of my way to make sure they used a condom so they wouldn't get any STIs or get someone pregnant.

Now one day, Shira messages us and says she decided to revive the show again. Only this time, we were going to do it for adults in Toronto’s Fringe and Summerworks Festivals. Shira wanted to make this show more and more epic, so she decided to put more of her time into it and cover wider topics. Some of the original castmates couldn’t do it, since they had moved or had jobs to deal with, so she had to hire new people. One of the new hires was Sara who apparently saw us perform in the Science Centre and had dreamed about joining us after our performance. We were scared that new castmates might not like us, or fit in well, or that our cast family will lose our vibe due to new people joining us. Surprisingly, this wasn’t the case. These guys just came in and fit in so well like they were part of us since day one, way before Ontario Science Centre show.

Some of us, like me, didn’t comprehend how epic and legit Fringe and Summerworks was going to be. I didn’t realize that we would be performing in the same spaces as professionals in the Toronto theatre community. This was a very intimating moment for us and we had to prove ourselves. I remember the day when the critics came to our show, and it wasn’t our best run and didn’t go how we planned. But due to my amazing cast mates, who did an epic job, somehow we pulled a 4N rating from Now Magazine, crushing other professional theatre performances in the festival. It felt so good knowing that we could’ve done a far better job and still got a 4N rating by the critics.

A year later, Shira decided to do the show again, but this time instead of performing for adults, she wanted to go back to our roots and target it to youth. We rented the same theatre we used for Summerworks (The Factory Theatre Studio) and performed for many schools in Toronto. This was really epic. We loved performing for high school students, because our show was the most relatable to youth. After every show, students would walk up to us and tell us how relatable this was to them and how much they loved us. This was very rewarding, as we were making a difference in these kids' lives.

A year after that, Shira announced that we would officially be going national, visiting cities in Ontario and Saskatchewan. Shira told us that we didn't have our previous stage manager anymore, who we loved to work with, and that she would love to try one of us out to be our new stage manager. Then, Shira offered me the stage manager role for the entire tour. I loved the idea of me doing this, so I took it.

At the time of writing this blog, I’m in the bus ride after our first show of this trip in Kapuskasing, Ontario where I witnessed such an amazing show. This show was our biggest one so far - 300+ students! It was so cool to peer educate every single kid from grade 7 to grade 12 in this town in Northern Ontario. The difference it was going to make throughout years to come; it's so much that it's very hard to imagine. After the show, these kids would come and say how much they could relate to this and enjoyed this.

The cast of SExT perform in Kapuskasing, Ontario with Isfan watching them from the booth! (SExT 2018 National Tour)

Now, about stage managing. I had no prior training or experience in stage managing and I gained massive respect for every stage manager out there who has to deal with it. It was a bit stressful for my first time, but overall we did amazing. Thanks to the two students from the school who helped me with the lighting switches and sound stuff, we pulled a great show. Funny thing was the student who did the lighting for me had no prior experience either, except for a total of 3 minutes of training, and was a bit nervous about it too. The student who did the sound was new at it, too, but had a little bit of experience from her theatre class. I was shocked at how these individuals pulled themselves together and did their job so efficiently. After talking with them about how they felt about our show back in the stage managing tech room, they described to me how epic the show was for them.

Anyways, our journey has just begun for this year, and we are hoping to make a meaningful change to the lives of thousands of kids this year in their communities.

I’ll end this blog with this quote: “The best way to predict the future is to create it.” ~ Abraham Lincoln. This is so relatable to us, as we are educating these kids to make informed decisions in their lives. By creating this show for them, we are predicting their future to be better.

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