By: Leah Archambault (Occasional Punk Singer and Dancer #3 from the right)
On Friday November 4th, I had the opportunity to perform excerpts of The Ghomeshi Effect at Canterbury High School. This performance is part of a larger conversation our director Jessica Ruano has started with Ottawa-area high school students about consent, sexual assault and how we as artists deal with these difficult subjects in our work, across disciplines.
After our student and teacher guests arrived, Jessica Ruano gave a brief overview of The Ghomeshi Effect, how the script was created (by hours and hours of interviews with real people which are then transcribed ‘verbatim’ to create the text for the script) and how the work will be staged.
During this performance we presented excerpts of four different movement sequences, three that included text from the verbatim script. We also presented a reading of three additional pieces from the script in which a survivor relates how she/he is perceived for being emotional or unemotional in court. The verbatim script we presented to the students at Canterbury also dealt with the survivor in court and how the survivor navigates the legal system. We then introduced the concept of how all of this might be affected by race, class, gender identity etc. as part of our follow-up discussion questions.
I was completely blown away by how perceptive, compassionate, and aware these young artists were. They were immediately engaged and full of questions, ideas, stories. After watching several of the movement phrases that combined verbatim script with choreography, we were told that the movement helped “humanize” the script, echoing it’s tone or adding counterpoint to highlight the differences.
There was a bit of discussion in the rehearsals prior to the Canterbury performance as to whether or not we should use our normal gestural reference for ‘Nail Polish’ (A ring finger ‘dip’ into the Roofie-Detecting-Nail-Polish followed by a middle finger to the audience). While the students murmured approval when Annie ‘Flipped them the bird’ at the conclusion of the ‘Nail Polish’ choreography, they also teased out how it might be used for satirical emphasis afterwards.
“I like that she used culturally recognizable gesture. The middle finger, for example, it connects us to the piece. It’s a gesture we use, it’s a gesture we recognize. Yeah, this is stupid, now I have to wear this nail polish at all times.”
It was inspiring to listen to these young people, who wanted to push even harder- who were less concerned with offending than we were. i learned so much and am just super inspired, which brings me to my next thought:
Ever since I began working with the amazing artists behind The Ghomeshi Effect, I’ve been thinking about a particular type of political dance theatre called “Sitting on a man”.With the devastating outcome of the American election, I keep coming back to this idea.
“Sitting on a man” is a political dance/theatre form that was created and used to great effect by the Igbo women of Nigeria since at least the 1920s.
The “sitting” women challenge male authority by publicly shaming a man for grievous behaviour, this is done through group improvised dance and song performed outside of the perpetrator’s actual home. In some cases, they beat the walls of his house while they sing about WHAT HE DID.
Let’s just take a moment to recognize how badass this is.
Where, historically, women had little real political power to rely on, they chose instead to police their own communities and support other women (often survivors) by creating cathartic and politically effective art.They supported and lifted each other up and MADE men accountable.
In 1929 the women of British Nigeria mounted anti-colonial protests to redress grievances (most are more familiar with this as the “Women’s War of Nigeria”).“Sitting” on the Warrant Chiefs was a significant part of their protest and a very successful tactic. They won the war by making art.
All I’m saying is: We need some women to go down to the White House and SIT ON THIS MAN.
By touring The Ghomeshi Effect to young people, we hope to provide them with space to talk about how sexual assault and the societal factors that influence it (misogyny, rape culture, abuses of power etc.)influence their lives. Their engagement is not only moving, it’s vital- it’s the only way real change can ever happen!
Here’s my optimism for the day: I met some amazing young people of differing gender-identities last Friday who might just win this war.