Audience participation encouraged in Breaking out of Boxes

It’s one thing to perform a play about gender and sexuality, but it’s another thing to have the audience itself directly influence the outcome. This is what UBC forum theatre group Changing the Lens intend to do with in their upcoming event Breaking Out of Boxes, a forum theatre performance focusing on the problems surrounding this societal facet.

To those unfamiliar, Changing the Lens -- a group associated with the UBC Players Club -- addresses various societal issues through performance skits in a forum theatre format; an unconventional way for all to discuss the problem head-on, whether performer or spectator.

“When they perform it, it goes to the climax and the piece doesn’t resolve -- it’s a moment of maximum conflict,” said Audrea Chen, a consultant for the group. “[When performed] the second time, the audience is invited to come on stage … and try to change the piece from there.”

With this method and motive in mind, their latest production’s themes of gender and sexuality are all the more appropriate to tackle. Not only a popular social topic to deal with, it's also something UBC students are all too familiar with given controversy in recent years.

“Generally, we wanna pick something that resonates with the campus community," said Chen. “[Last year], we polled the audience to see what they want us to talk about and gender really came up quite often ... this was in light of all the Sauder rape chants and the [sexual assaults] around campus, so it was pretty relevant.”

That said, the team intends to deal with lesser known issues apart from harassment like gender stereotyping and discrimination -- emphasizing more on how we “sort people into boxes” regarding gender.

“We wanted to focus more on the idea of society's enforcement of gender roles and the consequences of breaking from the societal norm,” said Chen. “Although they dictate our behaviour throughout all aspects of our lives, it can be difficult even to identify them. When one departs from this subconsciously observed gender norm, this often serves to magnify their sense of discomfort.”

One particular skit covers customers buying scented candles in the market. “The pine wood kind of stuff is usually bounded to masculinity, and like floral and refreshing kind of smell is usually related to female,” said Sherry Wang, a second year Engineering student, who is also in charge of the group's internal communications. “We’re trying to show how the roles in the skit actually don’t really care about these products [and shouldn’t] bound yourself into choosing what kind of products that you want.”

Of course, the club also always looks forward to whatever the audience does when they get on stage and face the scenarios directly.

“It feels very interesting because you get to talk to the actual audience,” said Wang. “You get to know what they feel about, [how] they change the whole scene into a different direction and might have a better solution.”

The risk of an audience member taking an offensive or unserious stance is also likely, but Chen personally looks forward to the possibility.

“You know it would actually be very interesting, it would explore what they were thinking when they did that,” Chen said. “It’d be pretty cool to see what the rationale is for doing that.”

Ultimately, what matters for Chen and the rest of the team is that people take something from the experience.

“We hope audience members come away from our performance with an increased awareness of their own assumptions and an increased interest in filling their knowledge gaps about gender-related issues,” she said. “We also hope [the performances] help audience members develop effective strategies for dealing with conflict in their own lives -- no matter the subject.”

Breaking out of Boxes will be performed at Neville Scarf 100, March 24 and 26 at 7 p.m. Admission is by donation.