Monday, February 9, 2009

How Drama Can Become Abusive

How many times do we tell our children to be careful about their own personal space? How often do schools enforce the 'keep your hands, your feet, and your unkind comments to yourself' rule? How many times do we worry that our children will not be able to say 'no' to someone who has more power than they have?

My bet is that parents will all be nodding vigorously in sympathy to those questions. "I know! I know!"

We teach our children that it is polite to shake hands by way of introduction. We would never suggest that they rub bodies together instead.

Have you ever heard of 'trust' games? They are very much like the games that couples play in groups at Buck and Doe showers. You know the kind. You hold an orange between your chin and shoulder, and you have to pass it around from person to person without it falling. Or, you have to pass a playing card from person to person using only the suction power of your mouth. You know, those psuedo-sexual games meant to embarrass people who would otherwise just shake hands and keep a polite distance. Certainly they would not come lip-to-lip with a mere acquaintance.

Did you know that pedophiles use 'games' to groom their victims? It is a way to override a child's sense of right and wrong by masking the action. A pedophile would not likely come right out and say 'Hey, touch me.' Instead, the invitation is 'Let's play a game. I have a piece of gum. You turn around and I will put it in one of my pockets. If you can find it in three tries, I will give you a whole pack of gum. If you don't play, then all your friends will be mad at you.'

Likewise, in positions of power, pedophiles will encourage or demand that the young people under their care play these games with other, so that they can watch. Creepy, innit?

Isn't that what we encourage our children to say 'no' to?

Let's make no mistake that trust games are intended to break down inhibitions. You will hear claims of 'it allows them to bond, to trust each other on stage'.


What teaches child actors to trust their fellow actors is to rehearse. Does the other person show up on time? That builds trust. Does the other person know their lines? That builds trust. Does the other person know their blocking? That builds trust. Does the other person help me out when I forget a line? That builds trust.

What trust games do is to enforce the power of the 'director' over the actor, over their choices. They teach kids that their gut instincts can be ignored.

Parents have to watch out for their kids. Know what is going on and speak out if you see inappropriate touching, inappropriate clothing, inappropriate language - anything. If you would not tolerate it in real life, you should not tolerate it on the stage. And I am not talking about subtext. I am talking about actual physical and emotional impropriety. And this happens with emotions as well, but that is another post.

Do not abdicate your responsibility to your child by 'trusting' the teacher, or the director. Do not falsely reassure yourself 'well this is theatre, it's all just acting'. Do not think that public school drama classes are not guilty of this. It is standard procedure, taught to the teacher by University, and they don't give it a second thought. They should.

My bet is that the schools will get a complaint about sexual harassment based on these types of games.

Do not let 'art' be an avenue to make your child vulnerable.

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