I recently performed the final show in the “Thread Bound” run as a relaxed performance and many people asked me what that means. Some thought it meant the audience needed to participate. Some thought it meant performers only perform at 2/3 their regular energy level. Some said they did know what it meant and it sounded a bit scary so they decided to avoid it. So today I am going to tell you what a relaxed performance is.
To clear up these misconceptions, I’d like to say that audience participation is NOT something that is added to a relaxed performance and the performers WILL still go all out and perform at their usual full intensity and artistry!
A relaxed performance is an inclusive performance practice in which the traditional theatre rules and expectations are relaxed and/or presentation is specifically designed to make theatre more welcoming to audience members who are neurologically different from the norm. Relaxed performances are sensitive and inviting to theatergoers who may benefit from a more relaxed environment, including, but not limited to those with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), Tourette’s, concussion syndrome, sensory and communication disorders, learning disabilities as well as other ways of being.
People who are neurologically different may have sensory-processing challenges that make light, sound and touch feel different: Sound might seem extra loud or a bright light cue might feel painful for them. Differences in processing speed might mean that it takes a while to understand what is being said on stage. The emotional intensity of a play may seem unbearable without access to their regulatory stims such as rocking or making sounds. They may experience claustrophobia at the thought of having to sit still in a theatre seat for an hour. They may feel anxieties about audience etiquette as they strive to figure out what the social theatre rules are. All these different types of experiences may feel overwhelming and make theatre in a traditional setting not accessible to them.
Every production company will design their relaxed performances differently. Whatever the choices they make, it is important to remember that a relaxed show will never make a production 100% accessible. Nothing is every 100% due to competing access-needs. I will give an example from my personal life to help define competing access-needs. Both my son and I have high functioning Autism. Sometimes he needs to makes a clucking noise to feel right in his body and sometimes I need to repeat a specific sentence over and over to feel right in my body. The thing is that both our self-regulating stim methods drive the other person to distraction and irritability and thus represent completing access needs. What is helpful to one person might interfere with access for another.
A vital aspect of relaxed performance is that the artistic excellence of the production and director’s vision remain unchanged. Rather it is everything else that surrounds the production that may be adjusted to be more welcoming.
So what are the type of things might be involved in a relaxed performance?
- House (audience) lights may be kept at a dim level rather than completely turned off
- people may be invited to leave the theatre during the show and the re-enter of they want or need.
- audience members may be asked to be aware of people’s needs to move or make noise.
- sound and lighting cues may be adjusted to be less startling or intense
- “fidget” devices such as hand spinners may be welcome and yes this may even include the use of cell phones or other devices as long as they are kept in quiet mode.
- self-regulation support items such as weighted blankets may be welcome or provided.
- a copy of the script may be provided in advance so people can prepare or gain an understanding of the content on their own time.
- description of possible triggers may be explained to the audience prior to the show.
- earplugs or sunglasses may be provided.
- people may be told its okay to plug their ears whenever they need to.
- people may be given advanced entrance or a longer time than usual to leave the theatre to help them avoid crowded theatre aisle or lobby.
Since all relaxed performances differ in how they provide a more relaxed setting, it is vital that what is being provided is outlined at the time of ticket purchase. This enables theatergoers to get a sense of whether the production will be accessible for them. For instance, sometimes a director will decide that turning down the music or light level will not work for a particular scene because the performers need that level of intensity. So earplugs may be provided instead of lower music levels. If you cannot stand the feeling of earplugs you may decide to bring your own noise-canceling headphones or decide not to go.
Production companies should not shorten their program by cutting out scenes as part of a relaxed performance. By doing this, they are making choices based on what they think is best for a disabled theatergoer. I offer that production companies put the choice in the hands of the theatre-goer. Present your full production and let the theatergoer make their own choice to self-edit by leaving the theatre for moments if they need or to want to.
Recently, my dance company REAson d’etre productions did a relaxed performance of “Thread Bound”.
This is how we designed the show to be more welcoming to those with neurological-difference:
- Music was played slightly lower than usual.
- “Stim” gadgets were welcome, including cell phones or devices as long as they are in quiet-mode.
- audience were asked to be aware of people’s needs to move or make noise
- people could leave and come back in as needed.
- script was sent to attendees ahead of time so they could process the meaning of the text and work-through/prepare for possible triggers on their own time.
- ear-plugs and sunglass were provided at the box-office to be worn in sections in which blinking-lights and sound levels might be painful for some.
- description of possible triggers was given prior to the performance.
After the performance, the box office manager said, “providing earplugs was a waste of money as hardly anyone used them.” He guessed that people who needed earplugs had brought their own and suggested that for the next relaxed performance we forgo supply them. I explained that even if no one had used our earplugs that they were still an important relationship-building tool. As a person with Autism if I arrive at a show and saw that earplugs were provided I get a sense that who I am is visible and my needs are being considered. This is a wonderful moment of being seen that builds a positive relationship between me and the producing company even if I had brought my own earplugs.
Photo credit: Suzanne Liska and Kathleen Rea in Thread Bound
On Friday we performed our final studio run-through before we move over to the theatre. Here is what our small audience that attended has said about Men’s Circle.
Laura Bisoc wrote:
I loved watching Kathleen Rea’s new dance theatre production, Men’s Circle. It tells several stories of emotional vulnerability and unfettered expression with a seamless integration of singing, dancing and spoken dialogue. The dancers are brilliant and combine virtuosity, playfulness and clarity of expression in their fresh and fast paced acts.
A dead patient (most likely killed by the ineptitude of his therapist!) haunts the entire production and is one of the most endearing and mischievous characters I have ever seen. In his defence, the therapist is a wonderful singer and I hope his signature song, Appendicitis, will make it to the top charts. Performed while the therapist is wrestling with his dead patient, Appendicitis is full of emotional ardour and physiological urgency.
The white canopy that represents “our brain waves” is almost a character in itself, and so is the violin case with wings.
Definitely a not to miss event!
Evadne Macedo wrote:
Men’s Circle by Kathleen Rea is brilliant, surprising and touchingly funny. As a work of theatre, the stories reveal the hurts that lie beneath the surface of smiles and the hidden fears that separate us from ourselves and others.
As a work of dance, we are treated to a showcase of male strength, beauty and vulnerability as the characters struggle to heal and to find authentic connection through movement. In watching these courageous men reveal themselves in their acting, dancing and live music, we are challenged to reach into and beyond ourselves to find belonging and understanding in our own lives despite the risks of pain and rejection.
With the spectre of death ever present, and represented on stage as a character who confronts and soothes each man, Men’s Circle reminds us that we each have the capacity to live with grace and humility, and that we are never alone in this incredible human journey.
MEN’S CIRCLE – dance theatre by Kathleen Rea
DRAMATURGE: Tristan R. Whiston
ORIGINAL SONGS: Ariel Llama
DATES: November 2 to 5, 2017.
LOCATION: Betty Oliphant Theatre, 404 Jarvis street, Toronto.
BOX OFFICE: http://menscircle.eventzilla.net/
FACEBOOK EVENT: https://www.facebook.com/events/150598895531063/
PRODUCED BY: REAson d’etre dance productions http://www.reasondetre.com/
FILM STILLS from footage by Drew Berry
Kathleen Rea is a registered psychotherapist and the creator of Men’s Circle, a new dance-theatre work that follows the story of a men’s therapy group. She speaks out about the current “Me Too” movement and rape culture in general.
In Canada, 80% of suicides are men. Suicide is the leading cause of death in Canada for men aged 19 to 35. It’s clear that men’s mental health issues are in a state of crisis. And this is in context with what I call a “rape culture” a social concept used to describe settings in which sexual assault is pervasive and normalized due to attitudes about gender and sexuality. I believe the epidemic of men’s mental health concerns cannot be separated from the predominance of rape culture in our society — they are two sides of the same issue. The rape culture cannot sustain unless there is an ever ready group of men who lack emotional awareness and compassion. This process starts at a very young age when we tell boys to be strong and stop crying because “boys don’t cry”. Many boys and men are themselves abused, but have no cultural context within which to even start talking about what happened. They often feel great shame at the thought of showing weakness. When we teach people not to feel, to supress their natural emotions, they become unable to have conversations that can be healing. They become emotionally empty human shells that feed our mental health hospitals and our morgues. They also may become people capable of supporting and propagating a rape culture in both overt and subtle ways. This emotional suppression has become so ingrained in society, we don’t see it. Men are expected to not show weakness, and that means they remain silent. The Movember Foundation is currently running a men’s mental health and suicide prevention campaign, and one of their main tag lines is telling men to “Unmute”… to start talking. For me, the movement happening right now is just as much about saving men as it is about saving women.
Acclaimed intellectual, feminist and cultural critic, Bell Hooks wrote:
The first act of violence that patriarchy demands of males is not violence toward women. Instead patriarchy demands of all males that they engage in acts of psychic self-mutilation, that they kill off the emotional parts of themselves. If an individual is not successful in emotionally crippling himself, he can count on patriarchal men to enact rituals of power that will assault his self-esteem.
Fellow colleague Mathew Remski, wrote in his article Minimization as a Patriarchal Reflex:
With this patriarch indoctrination comes a subconscious reflex to equate a woman’s (insert “gay man’s” or ‘transperson’s”) voice or ideas with irrationality, anxiousness, or lack of understanding the real issues of life. This is the baseline emotional reality of heteronormative men that the #metoo movement is charging at on the open field. It’s a vicious feedback loop. Dehumanization escalates to outright rape, and minimization – the most socially-acceptable dehumanization tool – neutralizes the call-out of injustice….
The Me Too movement flows against the attempt to neutralize the call for justice. Waves of stories of sexual harassment and abuse are sweeping social media. They are a call-out to listen and begin the process of unmuting for all. I posted my Me Too story yesterday. It took five days of building up courage to step past the wall of silence and finally post it. The response has been touching and supportive. Even just one day later men in my life have started conversations with me about how they may have supported the rape culture in which I had these experiences. Others, both men and women, have told me their heart-breaking stories. For me, it feels like a movement towards ending the silence for all of us wherever we are on the spectrum from female to male.
I am currently working on my new production, Men’s Circle (premiering Nov 2-5, 2017 in Toronto). It is a dance theatre work that tells the story of a men’s therapy group. I was inspired to create Men’s Circle by the many men I have seen in my private practice who have come to see me seeking to connect with their emotional world and heal from trauma. Through it, I hope to support a culture in which men can be free to feel vulnerable. One of the characters, Joe, starts off completely disengaged from his vulnerability and ends the piece by weeping. Other themes, such as sexual abuse, self-medication through drugs and suicide are explored. This brave cast of men (Allen Kaeja, Bill Coleman, Mateo Galindo Torres, Kousha Nakhaei, Deltin Sejour, Rudi Natterer and Harold Tausch) break down barriers to men’s mental health by showing up and telling the stories of men. I am gathering together 100 male volunteer performers to take part in the production. I want to reach as many men as possible.
My other job is as a mom, raising two boys aged three and seven. In this job I don’t have to undo old habits, but rather have a chance to teach emotional health and respect for others from the start. There is something I always do when my kids cry. No matter how silly their reason for crying (like for instance if a carrot has fallen on the floor), I put my hand on their heart and say, “Cry. Let the tears flow”. One of the most important things in life is to learn to grieve well. I allow my child to take a moment and grieve for that fallen carrot. From what I see, they have a good cry, the wave of crying comes to an end, and they get on with their day. From my experience, it seems they actually get through their emotional wave quicker than if I were to try to stop them from crying. I think this is because they are only grieving the fallen carrot rather then having to grieve both the fallen carrot and the grief of having ones emotional world minimised. In this way I hope to bring up boys who are not frightened of their emotions, who are well practiced in their flow. I hope to raise men who do not shy away from vulnerability.
By telling my own Me Too story, by helping men feel their emotions and by how I bring up my two boys I hope to be part of the humanistic movement that is shaking the foundations on which rape culture exists.
a new dance theatre work by Kathleen Rea that tells the story of men in a therapy group.
DATES AND LOCATION
Betty Oliphant Theatre, 404 Jarvis street, Toronto
Thursday, November 2, 2017 @ 8pm – Pay-what-you-can preview
Friday November 3, 2017 @ 8pm – Opening night
Saturday, November 4, 2017 @ 8pm
Sunday November 5 , 2017 @ 3pm
To volunteer to perform or to attend the performance see info at
When I was five years old, I fell in love with Margery Williams’ classic story The Velveteen Rabbit. That year I asked for my very own velveteen rabbit for Christmas. At the time, stores only sold stuffed rabbits around Easter time. My mom searched high and low and finally found a stuffed rabbit for way more than she could afford in a Yorkville toy shop. I loved that rabbit into being real and it kept me company through the trials and tribulations of growing up.
One could say that this production of The Velveteen Rabbit ballet has been in the making since I was five years old. But it officially began in 1999 when Bengt Jörgen asked me to create a ballet for his company Canada’s Ballet Jörgen. The Velveteen Rabbit was the first story that came to mind. I pulled my old stuffed bunny out of its keepsake drawer and asked the Ballet Jörgen prop builder to build a life sized version. I then worked for months choreographing the ballet and was able to see the stuffed rabbit come to life on stage.
Last year, Bengt asked me to remount The Velveteen Rabbit. It has been an extraordinary gift to come back and reshape a work fifteen years after I first created it. I bring to the new production a wealth of experience and knowledge that my younger self did not have. I am now a mother of two boys and the eldest is almost five, which is the same age as the character of the boy in the ballet. When I explained to Daniel, who plays the little boy, how he should throw his housecoat in the air and gleefully run away, I smiled because I had just experienced a similar scene that morning as I was getting my son ready for school.
The new production has more of a theatrical feel. I have been telling stories through dance over the past 15 years, and I have learned a thing or two. All the characters now have clearly defined back stories and plot dilemmas they are trying to resolve. I worked to create a relationship triad between the Nanny, the Velveteen toy and the young boy that speaks to the power of love as a transformational force. The Nanny gives the Velveteen Rabbit to the boy so he has something to hug when he is lonely. It is the Nanny’s love for the boy as realized through the Velveteen Rabbit that helps the boy’s heart grow bigger. He learns compassion for others and that the world is not all about him. The more the boy’s heart grows the more he is able to love the Velveteen Rabbit. His love starts to make the toy real. The more real the toy becomes in the boy’s eyes, the more the boy’s heart grows helping to make his toy even more real. The transformation that occurs in the boy and the Velveteen Rabbit is something they have to do together. Together they learn that becoming real can hurt because is involves having a heart big enough to take in both the joys and sorrows of life. It is the growth in the boy’s ability to care for and love another that ultimately conjures up the toy fairy who turns the Velveteen Rabbit into a real bunny.
Yes, I know that is a whole lot of depth for a ballet created for children! But I believe that kids have more emotional depth than we often give them credit for. They might not be able to name the concepts portrayed, but it is my hope that the story of becoming “real” in one’s heart will live in their hearts. They may actually understand the story better than us adults because the magic of toys becoming real is something they know to be true.
Canada’s Ballet Jörgen presents
The Velveteen Rabbit
A story ballet for all ages choreographed by Kathleen Rea
In Toronto for two days only
October 4, 2014 – 4pm
October 5, 2014 – 2pm
Betty Oliphant Theatre, 404 Jarvis St., Toronto, Ontario, M4Y 2G6
Tickets: $16 to $32
To purchase tickets please visit https://ww2.ticketpro.ca/jorgen2014.php?aff=krn&languageid=-1
or call toll free at 1-888-655-9090
Growing up, The Velveteen Rabbit was my favourite story. I think as a young child I understood that becoming “real” is a sort of magic that can happen to all of us when we truly engage in life. I even had my own stuffed velveteen rabbit that I “loved” into being real. Years later when Bengt Jorgen invited me to create a children’s ballet on his company, The Velveteen Rabbit was the first story that came to mind. I asked my costume designer to use my old toy as a model for the lead dancer’s costume…and so my childhood toy did actually come to life! As a mother of two young boys, I am excited to create a ballet version of my favorite story that my boys can enjoy and learn from.
Watch the video:
I wrote a post for the Love Our Bodies, Love Ourselves Blog (launched the B.C. Provincial Eating Disorders Awareness Campaign) about the day I was shamed for being too fat and to thin and how the ludicrousness of the situation helped me realise that the only place I could find self-acceptance was within myself.
“The Right Size: My Steps to Self-Acceptance, by Kathleen Rea”
Creating the dance solo was a challenge because the subject was still raw. I felt so vulnerable. Finally, after months of rehearsal, I waited backstage at the theatre where the conference was being held. My hands clenched into fists and my shoulders tightened in an effort to collect the strength to walk on stage. This would be the first time I admitted publicly that I suffered from an eating disorder, and doing so took all the muscle I had. A large empty mirror frame stood at center-stage, waiting for me; the partner that would give meaning to my performance. I breathed in and took a step into the light. As I did so I heard someone in the theatre gasp and say, “She’s so thin!” Her tone was sharp and brittle. I wondered if this audience member thought I was part of the problem, and that just by standing there on stage my size was encouraging people to starve and dislike their bodies. I took another step towards the mirror frame. Further murmurs of judgments about my size rippled through the theatre. My body froze. I felt that I didn’t belong here, that I was too thin to be spokesperson for positive body image.
I was immobilised not just by a feeling of not being accepted but also by the irony of my situation, because just one hour ago I had been made to feel shamefully overweight.
The theatre where the NEDIC conference took place was across the street from another theatre, where I was dancing in the premiere performance of The National Ballet of Canada’s Romeo & Juliet. During intermission, I had run across the street to perform at the NEDIC conference. My required performance weight at the National Ballet Company was bone thin. This was not my choice but the weight required of me to keep my job. For the past five years I had struggled to maintain this unnatural shape. I was told that, because of my “large breasts” (I was a B cup size), I had to be even thinner than the other girls. Those of us with “large breasts” were so ashamed of our womanly curves that we would bind our chests for performances. Our ballet rehearsal mistress frequently told me that I would lose a role unless I dropped weight. I was constantly on a starvation diet. Then after dieting intensely for days, a famished “creature” would seize control, and an intense desire to eat would overcome my willpower. In a trance-like state, I would binge on all the foods my strict diet denied me. Emerging from my daze, I would try to erase the calories through various methods of purging. And yet somehow, my struggles with eating were not the worst part. That honor went to the hatred I felt towards my body, and the shame I internalized for not having the willpower to maintain my starvation diet. I often slept on the bathroom floor fighting the urge to find relief through self-harming. I would lie like that on the cold tiles until morning because the comfort of my bed seemed too indulgent for someone who was such a failure. One morning, after a particularly traumatic night, I scraped myself off the bathroom floor and I looked in the mirror at my sunken eyes. I saw in them that I was dying — a soul death that would eventually result in a physical death if I stayed on the path I was on.
I chose life. I found an eating disorder therapist and began the recovery process. I spoke with the ballet company, telling them I was in recovery from an eating disorder and might gain weight, but that I would try to get back to my performance weight as quickly as possible. Shortly after this, the company went on tour to Washington, D.C. After we returned, the artistic director told me I had been far too fat to appear onstage, but due to so many dancers being injured, they were forced to keep me in the performance lineup. As a result, he informed me, I had embarrassed the nation of Canada on the international stage! By the time of the Romeo & Juliet premiere, I had been told that I was fired because of my weight…
Read the rest of the blog post at http://loveourbodiesloveourselves.blogspot.ca/2014/02/the-right-size-my-steps-to-self.html