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Sunday, January 20, 2019

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Consenting Bodies reading series opens conversation about consent


Consenting Bodies, a reading series addressing consent, boundaries and relationships comes to Mildred’s Umbrella. I Courtesy of Mildred’s Umbrella Theater Company

 

Over the past year or so, the conversation regarding consent, boundaries and relationships has heightened significantly in contrast to previous years or even decades.Women are now encouraged to speak up and speak out on their experiences regarding the issue of understanding consent.

Influenced by the wake of the #MeToo movement and the #NotInOurHouse movement, the series aims to encourage the conversation.

If unfamiliar, the #MeToo movement went viral and began the “vital conversation about sexual violence has been thrust into the national dialogue” says me too.

“What started as local grassroots work has expanded to reach a global community of survivors from all walks of life and helped to de-stigmatize the act of surviving by highlighting the breadth and impact of a sexual violence worldwide.”

A similar movement, the #NotInOurHouse movement is a movement focused on protecting artists, and theaters from “sexual discrimination and harassment, and gender-based violence often occur in the intimate and physical context of a theater production.”

Mildred’s Umbrella Theater Company will be putting on Consenting Bodies, a series of play readings regarding consent, boundaries and relationships for the modern time.The two-day series will consist of three plays, all of which were written by female playwrights.

Consenting Bodies consists of “Bully” by Amina Henry, “The Morning After” by Erica Saleh and “Krav Maga Play” by Brandy N. Carie. Each performance will be followed by a talk with the actors and director.

I had the honor to interview Bree Bridger, the director of the project, about the series as well as about consent in general. Take a look below for the Q&A with Bridger herself. Whether you are an avid activist on the issues of: consent, boundaries, relationships or you are just gaining realization over the issue, please take the time to support local female playwrights and pay-what-you-can.

The series runs Jan. 12-13 at Rec Room with a reception on the closing Sunday. Tickets are pay-what-you-can and include an invitation to the closing reception. Tickets can be purchased online at www.mildredsumbrella.com.

The Cougar: Is this the first series you have put on? If so, how did you approach such a project? 

Bree Bridger: This is the first series that I have orchestrated as part of the Mildred’s literary management team. Mildred’s has produced an annual short play festival for the last 10 years called Museum of Dysfunction, but this year we are developing new programs with full length readings, and Consenting Bodies is the first weekend series.

Partners for A.R.T. is another new program this season that features readings taking place throughout the year.

I’m directing one of the three (“Krav Maga Play”) and have checked in with the other directors (Danielle Ozymandias and Danielle Bunch) regularly, but have remained mostly hands-off there. I’m focusing on making sure the experience across all three readings feels unified while allowing each show to stand on its own merit, as each is so different from the others.

TC: How did you find/discover the female playwrights for the series? 

Bridger: These playwrights have submitted to Mildred’s Umbrella in response to our mission, and while reviewing submissions for the 2018-19 season, we noticed this theme emerging from several scripts.

We selected these plays by Amina Henry, Erica Saleh and Brandy Carie because they contrast well with each other and, in my opinion, approach the issues from an angle that I don’t often see explored on stage very effectively. Brandy Carie has also been a part of the Museum of Dysfunction festivals in recent years as both a playwright and director, and I’m excited to work with her again.

TC: You said that it is influenced by the #MeToo and #NotInMyHouse movements. How are you hoping that the series will influence men and women to understand and engage in the conversation regarding consent?

Bridger: The plays definitely address the subjects that #MeToo confronts regarding assault and harassment, and more broadly the series explores what it means to have control over what happens to you and your body and what can happen when someone feels they’ve lost that control.

They don’t necessarily offer ideal models on how to behave in the wake of #MeToo, but they are powerful depictions of these characters’ experiences with consent and autonomy in a variety of applications. If someone attends all three of the readings, it’s my hope that they will be able to consider the role that consent plays in their own lives in a way they may not have thought of before.

TC: Was your inspiration for the series based purely off the movements, or was there a personal aspect for you as well? 

Bridger: I see a lot of myself or people that I care about in the characters of these plays. As my friends and colleagues have shared their personal stories and their takes on those in the media over the last year, it’s become clear that we are all coming to this topic from different backgrounds. My hope is that this series can be a small continuation of the long process that these movements have started.

TC: How will the guided discussions work? Will they be interactive with the audience? 

Bridger: Following each play, one of the festival directors will be in discussion with the cast of the show to ask a few standard questions about the play and its themes. We then will welcome the audience to share how they feel about the topics explored, as much as they feel comfortable doing so, and to ask questions.

We’re developing some audience engagement opportunities in the lobby for before and after performances so people can share thoughts more privately, too. There will be a reception in the Rec Room bar on Sunday evening where audience members can continue the discussion with each other and with the artists.

TC: Lastly, even though our environment is becoming more accepting toward the movements such as #MeToo, how do you suggest that people engage and educate themselves about how to stay safe and avoid unhealthy relationships? 

Bridger: With the caveat that I’m coming entirely from my own perspective here, it can be tough to engage with this topic because it involves thinking critically about our own experiences and behaviors. Confronting that this is a cultural problem also means asking ourselves, “Have I ever been in a situation like this, and how did I respond?”

That can be challenging to deal with and may put someone in a defensive position from the start. My personal understanding of consent has certainly evolved over time. There are past experiences that I’ve had to reconsider as I have learned more about myself and the world.

Actively listening to others and to ourselves, what our needs and expectations are and a willingness to adapt accordingly are important steps in this process.

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