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Preview: Unconscious Curriculum tackles the ‘monster subject’

Monday, March 13, 2017

In a Waterloo Regional Record preview article on Unconscious Curriculum, which opens this week in Theatre of the Arts, director Prof. Andy Houston and student-actor Abbi Longmire describe how the challenging project  evolved over many months of research and collaboration. Read the story in The Record, and below.

The cultural calendar often includes offerings that go far beyond what can be considered "entertainment." A case in point is the upcoming end of spring term presentation from uWaterloo Drama.

The main event is a multimedia performance written and devised by students, directed by Professor Andy Houston, entitled "Unconscious Curriculum: Rape Culture on Campus."

posting showing students sitting in lecture theatreThe name alone makes it clear that this isn't going to make anyone's list of fun things to do that week. What we have instead is an opportunity to join students and staff in a process of reflection and critical thinking that "tackles the complicated layers" of an issue that is critically relevant to all of us.

What will be presented on the Theatre of Arts stage is the end result of student work in three separate drama courses held last fall: Collaborative Creation; Writing for Performance, and Design Theory and Practice.

Through research, reflection, writing and other means, the project utilizes "collaborative approaches to performance creation."

The focus, as Andy Houston put it when I spoke with him this week, is one of those "monster subjects" that pervades so many aspects of our lives.

uWaterloo Drama student Abbi Longmire was part of this discussion too. Her studies began touching on the subject as early as a Dramaturgy class she took in 2014.

Houston and Longmire explained how the students examined the issue from all perspectives: in language, literature, in the media, in sports, in popular music.

Participants were also asked to describe their personal relationship with the topic at hand. Abbi Longmire provided a poignant response: " ... Rape culture was my teacher, it taught me that I was less valuable than men ... Rape culture is like an abusive partner, always looming over trying to control you and make you doubt yourself."

Because it is something that is always present, part of everything we do, the subject becomes our "mutual complicity in rape culture, including hidden factors ... that normalize gender-based violence."

The overarching goal is "to arrest — to see, to apprehend, and to understand — the causes of rape." This is theatre that aims to make meaning that can serve to "shape the world we want to live in."

"Unconscious Curriculum" bears some similarity with "From Solitary to Solidarity: Unravelling the Ligatures of Ashley Smith," the 2014 uWaterloo Drama end of spring term presentation, which was also a collaborative performance directed by Andy Houston.

Although it builds on this and other precedents, the scope and scale of the collaboration is more extensive this time around. The Department of Drama and Speech Communication Theatre and Performance Unit is presenting the current offering as something "unique in the history of our program, and we are excited to experience the results of this work."

The stage presentation will be accompanied by three "thought-provoking events that contextualize and deepen the performance experience:"

• An exhibit featuring collaborative installations related to the project in the Theatre of the Arts Gallery between March 14 and 19.

• An online Dramaturgy Hub with various resources, including a "Learning Exchange Space" where you can find class-related material, students' responses and a question centre.

• A panel discussion entitled Gendered Violence  on Campus: Institutional Policy and Practice, hosted in collaboration with the uWaterloo Equity Office and the Special Adviser to the President — Women's and Gender Issues scheduled for March 23.

Story by Martin de Groot, Waterloo Regional Record, March 10 2017.

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