As It Happens

Interactive play Far From The Heart challenges teens to stop sexual assault

A travelling Ontario theatre company mounts a play showing how sexual assault can be prevented - by challenging the audience to prevent it.
The interactive play Far From the Heart is coming to Sudbury, Ont. this weekend. The actors play out the events leading up to a sexual assault. Then the audience helps change the outcome when scenes are repeated. (Sheatre)

Story transcript

An interactive theatre production is teaching audiences how to prevent sexual assault by asking the audience to intervene. 

Far From the Heart depicts a series of scenes taking place over the course of an evening that lead up to a sexual assault. After running through the performance once, the actors start again from the beginning. 

The second time, members of the audience are encouraged to stop the action and get onstage, either intervening as a bystander, or even replacing the other actors onstage to try a different approach.

In one early scene, a young man becomes angry with his girlfriend's new dress because he thinks it's too revealing, and tries to force her to cover up.

"It's a very difficult scene, the girl is hurt, and the audience can stop it at any point and can come up and change things," said Joan Chandler, artistic director of the Ontario theatre company Sheatre

A student intervenes during a scene of Far From the Heart. (Sheatre)

"When they come up they can take the role of either character, or become a bystander and intervene," Chandler told As It Happens host Carol Off.

In another scene, a girl is binge drinking with her friends when a boy tries to coerce her into sex while she's drunk.

'The kids are teaching each other'

Far From The Heart is mostly geared towards teenage audiences who may have just started to encounter uncomfortable or potentially dangerous scenarios like these for the first time.

"What's really happening is that the kids are teaching each other," said Chandler.

"When we began this, it was an idea to open a conversation about things kids didn't want to talk about — dating violence. Sexual assault. Rape. We don't want to talk about that. It's all taboo. But not only do they talk about it, now what they do is they're teaching each other what to do. And that's pretty rare, because kids don't generally get to practice this sort of scenario."

Chandler sees this interactivity as crucial to the production. Acting out the scenarios and having a group discussion afterward, she argues, wouldn't work as well.

"A lecture is one thing ... But to actually get up there and do something? That's a very different thing. Something very different happens, and light bulbs go off and learning kicks in, in a very visceral way," she explained.

"It's an experience. It's no longer just a discussion."

Social service agencies are also on hand to help anyone who may be affected by the performance and there is also a discussion group after the play.

Far From The Heart was also produced as an interactive film, and viewers are encouraged to film their own alternate takes or endings and submit them to the production and onto YouTube.

The production is currently in its ninth tour over 11 years. Dates in Sudbury, Espanola, Timmins and South River, Ont., are scheduled this month.

With files from CBC Sudbury.