A theatre show for teens aimed at preventing sexual violence is on in Auckland this week - and its makers hope it will attract enough interest and funds so it can tour more of the country.
Previously performed in Wellington, Eleanor Bishop and Karin McCracken spent around 18 months developing Yes Yes Yes to encourage candid discussions with young people about relationships, sex and consent.
They worked with Rape Prevention Education and 16 – 18 year olds at Epsom Girls Grammar, Papakura High School and Newlands College in Wellington to make the play which includes interview footage, a confessional story – McCracken's own – about a positive sexual experience and a fictionalised account about a sexual assault which plays out over a Messenger conversation. Audiences also contribute during the show, texting messages about their feelings.
Bishop says it was important to hear directly from teens and then weave this material into Yes Yes Yes. She says the "collage of community experience" has generated much talk among young audiences, with many relieved to realise they're not alone in the way they feel or with the experiences they've had.
Cases such as the Roast Busters, where a group of teenaged boys boasted on social media about sexual activity with underage girls, the #Me Too and #Times Up movements, and high profile assaults on US college campuses have led to growing calls for "consent information".
But an Education Review Office report released last year, the first review of sexuality education in our schools since 2007, concluded that schools have not kept pace with an explosion of access to pornography and other sexual content on smartphones and social media.
"To meet the needs of young people in our current context, sexuality education needs to be more comprehensive and the variability across schools needs to be reduced," the report said. "This evaluation found some schools were failing to meet minimum standards of effectiveness, and many more were only just meeting these needs. Given the complexity of the issues involved, and the impact sexuality issues have on young people's wellbeing, this performance is not good enough."
Bishop and McCracken, who is also a specialist educator in sexual violence prevention, worked together on Jane Doe, a show about rape culture in universities. After seeing the show at the Edinbrugh Fringe Festival, acclaimed UK theatre critic Lyn Gardner said their work should be played in classrooms around the globe.
"We face these issues in our own lives," says Bishop. "I'm 33 and Karin is 28 and we're young women dating and navigating these kinds of experiences," says Bishop. "At this particular moment in 2019, everyone knows what the issues are. Rape culture is being talked about; the Roast Busters were widely discussed but we now need to ask, 'well, what are we actually doing about it?'"
They consulted with Rape Prevention Education before making Yes Yes Yes. RPE has its own Body Safe programme for secondary students while ACC's Mates and Dates is also run in schools.
RPE executive director Tohill says Yes Yes Yes isn't a substitute for those programmes, but complements them and is a great way for students to see the subject presented in a different way.
"What I have really liked about working with Eleanor and Karin is that they have been really consultative and aware of the need to involve young people," says Tohill. "It shows in the production itself that it's about young people and it's real."
Yes Yes Yes reviewed
As a parent of a teenager, I wasn't sure how I felt about theatre-makers educating her about sex, consent and healthy relationships. Then again, she won't talk to me about it – I have tried – and, as a colleague pointed out, theatre groups have long been teaching our kids about everything from healthy eating to te reo.
So, I went to Yes Yes Yes with a more open-mind and Rochelle, an 18 year old from Michael Park School in Ellerslie, to let me know whether it really was right for her generation. After all, promo material said it's aimed at 16 – 18 year olds.
I suspected it would be more like a lecture and ever so slightly self-righteous; Rochelle, too, thought it would be a lot more "lecturey" but we were both pleasantly surprised that it was funny, thoughtful and entirely relatable – even for a 50 year old mother of two who realised there was no way I could, despite my best efforts, communicate these messages as clearly and effectively as they were here.
Lone performer Karin McCracken was more like a good-natured older sister than performer - amusing when she needed to be; calm and thoughtful at other times.
The interview footage, where real teens talk about their lives, was enlightening in a good way.
They're still, sadly, as confused as my generation were back in the day but facing way more pressure from social media to "hook up". Hearing from the young men was especially informative; they're well aware of the "crisis in masculinity" and, it would seem, would welcome some consistency in the messages about "being a man".
Rochelle's only other comment was that the show perhaps needs to be seen by younger teens who are already starting to deal with and talk about sex and relationships. My final thought on leaving the theatre? I can't recommend this highly enough; it should be a must for teens and their caregivers.
Yes Yes Yes is on at the Aotea Centre's Herald Theatre at 7pm on Friday and Saturday.