Incite/Insight Winter 2018 Incite Insight Winter 2018 - Page 8

7 I n c i t e /I ns i ght W i n te r 201 8 8 In c it e / In sig h t and there is much work to be done. I planted a seed in my mind that the Arkansas workshop might be the first gatherings of many in an ongoing investigation of the intersection of consent and theatre as civic dialogue. I acknowledged that I needed help as a designer and facilitator, and that I could not effectively serve the UCA students or the Conway and Little Rock community members in an academic vacuum. With Your Consent: Safety and Empowerment in the Arts W R I T T EN BY CAROLYN MARIE WRIGHT T he resurgent tide of the #MeToo movement and the rise of the #TimesUp initiative is a call to action for society to challenge “the gray area” in conversations on sexual consent – at home, at work, and in art. Theatre as Civic Dialogue reveals itself in many forms, and the devised `theatre model is one form that can be a very effective way for citizen-artists to create safe space for critical and creative exploration of sensitive and potentially daring topics like consent. Recently, I was invited to Conway, Arkansas by Ozark Living Newspaper Theatre (OLN) to inaugurate their Arts and Social Justice Workshop Series, co-sponsored by the University of Central Arkansas Schedler Honors College. Over the weekend of February 2-4, 2018, I facilitated a series of events that focused on consent: A Conversation on #MeToo, #TimesUp, and Artist Safety with undergraduate students, and a devised theatre workshop With Your Consent: Safety and Empowerment in the Arts with community members and local artists. Following the community workshop, participants were invited – with their consent – to share works-in-progress at OLN’s Unfringed: an evening of puppetry, improv, and spoken word. I believe in the transformational and healing power of the arts and theatre as civic dialogue, and I hope by sharing my facilitation experience and lesson plan, others may be inspired to host a gathering or workshop that continues the conversation on consent locally, nationally, and globally. In preparation for the community workshop, I explored the following questions: “What is consent? What does consent look, sound, and feel like? How do we shine a light for those who feel in the dark?” The definition of consent according to AffirmativeConsent.com provided a strong baseline for my workshop research: “Affirmative consent is a knowing, voluntary, and mutual decision among all participants to engage in sexual activity. Consent can be given by words or actions, as long as t hose words or actions create clear permission regarding willingness to engage in the sexual activity. Silence or lack of resistance, in and of itself, does not demonstrate consent. The definition of consent does not vary based upon a participant’s sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.” In the planning process, I investigated legislation like Title IX, historical context surrounding the origin of #MeToo movement and its founder Tarana Burke, news stories about recent sexual harassment and assault allegations in Hollywood, and documentation of the Larry Nassar court hearing news connected to USA Gymnastics. The number of possible focal points for the workshop seemed overwhelming, and the task at hand became daunting. Along the way, it became clear to me that the workshop endeavor was exposing “the tip of the iceberg” in the conversation on consent, I took a step back and remembered my time studying with Michael Rohd and Center for Performance and Civic Practice at the Sojourn Theatre Summer Institute, and the next question revealed itself: “Who else needs to be at the table for this community conversation to happen safely and effectively?” I am not licensed as a drama therapist or social worker or mental wellness professional, and it was important to me to make this clear with my participants. Furthermore, I do not have a pulse on the community conversations on consent in central Arkansas, and I wanted to be mindful of boundaries and potential danger zones. Learning more about my participants and then providing access to external support and resources in my workshop design was essential. I reached out to OLN Artistic Director Adam Frank to connect me with local personnel who work in therapeutic arts. A local Arkansas-based dance and movement therapist graciously took the time to speak with me over the phone in the beginning brainstorm stage and offered to review my lesson plan via email. After consultation, I was mindful that the work might reveal personal trauma that may require further medical support, and participation in the workshop might lead to cathartic or aggravating memory recall. It was necessary to be prepared for a spectrum of experiences and reactions in the room. As a result, contact information for University of Central Arkansas Counseling Center, Arkansas Coalition Against Sexual Assault, and Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund was identified and provided for participants. My workshop preparation continued with a strengthened commitment to providing physical and emotional safety, establishing boundaries, and engaging in clear, open communication – key elements that align with consent in both personal and professional environments. I sequenced a flexible lesson plan that would allow us to navigate the topic of affirmative consent in ways that aligned with the participants’ interests and comfort levels, as I became more familiar with them in session. In the end, I declared three key personal goals: (1) to utilize transparent facilitation; (2) to sequence a W int e r 2 018 timeline of exercises with space to “check in” with the group; (3) to give a voice to participants so they have agency and influence in deciding the direction of the work. On Saturday, February 3, we gathered in the New Deal Studios and Gallery in Pulaski, Arkansas for our three-hour workshop: With Your Consent: Safety and Empowerment in the Arts. The physical space was prepared: (1) a welcome table for participants to sign in and provide consent for participation (also optional media release form for group photo at end of workshop); (2) chairs in circle; (3) playing room available adjacent to the chair circle; (4) complimentary water and snacks in the anteroom; (5) designated space in the anteroom that served as “safe zone” if a participant opted to step out of workshop to refuel or recharge; (6) workshop objectives posted on chart paper; (7) suggested bullet points for community agreements posted on chart paper – to be utilized collaboratively during workshop as a working document; (8) contact information readily available for local mental wellness and sexual assault safety hotlines; (9) all- gender bathroom facilities; and (10) clearly marked emergency exits. After welcoming the participants and giving a tour of the studio space, we stepped through the workshop objectives and the ensemble agreements. I lead participants through a warm up activity, creative play, and playwriting and performance activities. First, we navigated how to safely explore personal narrative surrounding consent in the creative form of monologues, with the help of a writing prompt worksheet. Participants had the choice to share their writing aloud. Prior to sharing