Seeing the Flemingdon Park neighbourhood wracked by controversy about sexual education, coordinator Shira Taylor invited a group of young people (originally 14-18ish) to devise a theatre piece about sex, sexuality, healthy relationships and healthy identities. Built of spoken word, dance, music and sketches, and packed with parodies and references, it’s easy to see why festival audiences have packed this SummerWorks production.
The best parts of SExT, and the moments that got the best reaction out of the audience, are when the performers are working material closest to their own experiences: there’s undeniable power in a young person demanding an audience’s attention to address the world, and this is a great forum for that kind of communication. The post-show Q&A session, when the participants are at their frankest, seemed to get more energy out of the audience than much of the rest of the show.
And on some level, that’s a problem, right? To me, it almost felt like there were two shows pulling in different directions here: a show driven primarily by the actual experiences and generational ideas of these young people and the stories they feel a soul-urge to share with the world; and a show driven by the curricular need to shoehorn Important Information into it as well.
That’s not to say these segments are awful. Like, Mary Getachew? Mary Getachew does it all, man: she sings, she moves, she acts, and making her channel Beyonce to teach about condom usage is clever. She pulls it off, and — as a performer — she leaves an impression we’ll be looking for in future work: she’s got something ahead of her.
But what really rocked my world was Michelle Nyamekye’s utterly heartfelt spoken-word recitation of the dings and scrapes and burns she’s encountered surrounding her identity as she grows into it. This segment, and others like it, felt real and significant and important in a way that the information-oriented segments just didn’t.
A Disney tribute to menstruation and wet dreams (“Let it Flow”) gives the company a chance to sing and be silly, and there’s something to that — but the segment which follows it, in which the company actively deconstruct the inner worlds young people inhabit when they find themselves in romantic, social and sexual situations, actually makes the Earth move a few inches.
This split in the show sort of goes to the second point I’m iffy about: this show takes on a huge number of targets. Sexual ignorance, sexism, islamophobia, racial prejudice and stereotyping, biracial and mixed-race identities, consent, self-respect, healthy relationships, feminism, heterosexism…
But it’s only an hour-long show, right? And the treatment of these issues often feels shallow, little more than a shout-out. Some of this probably plugs into the company’s desire to be inclusive, and there are definitely whiffs of queerness in particular throughout the production — but given the expectations this show sets for itself, and given the goal of getting this into schools, it feels like more good might be accomplished by picking a shorter list and drilling into these problems to greater depth, rather than by throwing in a one-liner or bluntly stating that a given prejudice is wrong, then moving onto another.
If nothing else, though, I really wanted to hear more from these young people: when their hearts are in the material, when they’re personally invested in the messages they’re sharing, and especially when they’re clearly speaking directly to their own experiences, their own bumps and scrapes and traumas, they really hit me between the eyes. When this show fixates upon information, and upon hitting notes and checking boxes, it skids and coasts a bit, getting into territory we’ve all seen before.
But when it’s a forum for these bright, brilliant young people to share their experiences and speak for themselves, there’s something very special going on in SExT.
SExT plays at the Factory Theatre Studio. (125 Bathurst St.)
Be aware that this production includes frank discussion of human sexuality, as well as mature and suggestive language. Although the production is suitable for all ages, the subject matter may not be accessible for the youngest people: recommended for ages 13+.
- Thursday August 11th 9:15 PM – 10:15 PM
- Friday August 12th 6:00 PM – 7:00 PM
Individual SummerWorks tickets are $15 at the door (cash only). Youth Series tickets are $10, Live Art Series ticket prices vary. Tickets are available online at http://summerworks.ca, by phone at 416-320-5779 and in person at the SummerWorks Central Box Office at Factory Theatre (125 Bathurst St). Open August 2-14 from 10am-7pm. Cash and credit accepted.
Several money saving passes are available if you plan to see at least 3 shows.
Production photo provided by the SummerWorks Festival. Photograph does not reflect present casting.