Theatre in Education or Education in Theatre
I am currently performing a show called “Girl’s Talk” which tours around Melbourne schools. This is now my 5th season of the show (it happens in Aug/Sept every year) and I’m still discovering things about my performance and our audiences. I originally got involved because it was a decent pay rate and finding paid acting work in Melbourne is no mean feat, but then I discovered over the course of the season that it was a fairly rewarding experience.
As it states in our opening sequence, the show is a series of monologues taken from interviews from girls and woman of differing ages about their experiences of adolescence, and the topics we cover are everything from eating disorders, puberty, first kisses and sex, pregnancy and abortion, and just general growing up. Despite the subject matter we still throw in some comedy so it’s not all doom, gloom and learning. The easiest way to get a teenage audience on your side is to make them laugh (and of course a bit of mild swearing never goes astray).
We travel to an array of different schools: some private Catholic, some public, and perform to year 7’s, 8’s and sometimes year 9’s, and the reaction we get completely differs at every school we go to. What’s interesting is that you can’t always assume that just because you’re going to a private school that the kids are going to be well behaved. It just depends on the year and the kids that are there. Sometimes we go to a public school in Melbourne’s outskirts and we expect it to be a tough crowd and they are the most attentive and involved audience. What I find frustrating at times is that we are forced to perform a ‘religious’ version of our play at the private Catholic or Jewish schools, in which we take out our monologues about lesbians, sex, abortion and pregnancy, things that I think desperately need to be talked about with teenagers. I attended a private Catholic girls school from grade 4 to year 9 and I can tell you those Catholic girls were far worse when it came to anything sex related, because when you repress kids they rebel, times 10. One of the lines in our play is “comprehensive sex education delays intercourse rather than encouraging it”, and I think it’s true. The more you know, the better informed you are to make a choice. And never mind the fact that you can’t be a lesbian at a religious school, god help those kids questioning their sexuality.
After each show we have a 5-10 minute question time, which is my favourite part of the show, because apparently I just love to give advice. I blame my Mum for that. There are the standard questions, such as “are those stories real?”; “Did any of those stories happen to you?”; “Were you bullied at school?”; “How old are you?” And then occasionally we get a new and interesting question like “if you have sex with an uncircumcised guy, is it dirty?” Those are pretty classic. But then there are the really touching moments where kids open up to us and tell us all the problems that they are facing. We had a girl the other day that told us that a boy in her primary school, who had huge anger management issues, hooked his bag around her neck and started twisting the handle. The teacher had to literally pull the boy off her. Since then she has been in and out of hospital with an eating disorder and her parents removed her from the school as nothing was done about disciplining the boy. She is only 12 years old. This week we performed at a school where a boy in year 10 committed suicide just days before. In that audience there was so much segregation and bullying. I asked them to put up their hands if they thought that they would get judged, teased or bullied if they asked a question and every single one of them put up their hand. There was a girl sitting on her own with no one around her for metres, and every time I made eye contact with her she would suddenly look at the ground. We also found out a boy at that school had recently come out and was apparently being bullied mercilessly. Part of me would love to take each one of them aside, and say ‘don’t worry about those idiots, it’ll get better and you’re an amazing little person’. I am however not a counsellor and I just have to hope that everything we performed to them makes them realise that they are not alone and other people have gone through similar things.
The one thing about kids is that they don’t tend to hide their emotions very well. We can immediately tell when someone is dealing with an issue we are covering. We often see girls either crying or hanging their head in shame when we talk about eating disorders, abortion or the section about date rape. I remember a few years ago when I was performing my first season of the show, we had 4 girls sobbing when we were covering the topic of abortion, as they had all recently gone through it, within the last two months. They were in year 10. It’s times like these that I get pulled out of my bubble of comfort and realise that some teenagers are dealing with more than they can cope with. Growing up is a crazy process and in doing this show I hope that even if I can make just one little girl make a different choice, or know that they can get help, then I am satisfied.