Posted: April 20, 2021
Have you ever wished you could stop and “re-play” your words and reactions? In Theatre of the Beat’s (TOTB) current production, Unmute, you can do that.
Responding to a problem exacerbated by pandemic lockdowns, Unmute addresses intimate partner violence through theatre.
The production was commissioned by DART (Domestic Assault Response Team of Waterloo Region), Women’s Crisis Centre of Waterloo Region, Waterloo Region Crime Prevention Council and Keeping Families Safe. Performances have been sponsored by Mennonite Central Committee across Canada and local congregations.
“Once COVID-19 happened, I was concerned with the pandemic’s effect on gender-based violence,” says Kimberlee Walker, co-writer and show facilitator. She obtained permission to rework a play she’d discovered on the subject. TOTB reworked it for their use.
“Although 18-30-year-olds are statistically most likely to be affected by domestic violence, it can happen to any gender, any race, any socioeconomic group,” says Kimberlee Walker.
“It’s not just a Canadian issue,” says Lindsey Middleton, actor and co-writer, who hopes to reach a global audience. “You never know how [these performances] could impact someone.”
“Our goal here in Ontario was to open conversations on intimate partner violence during the pandemic and teach people how to be an active bystander and intervene when they are witness to abusive, isolating or stigmatizing behaviour,” says Rod Friesen, MCC Ontario. “Unmute offers a unique approach to building peace in the community.”
TOTB’s goal is not merely to entertain but to train. After the actors portray a story that ends badly, they replay the story, inviting the audience to “stop!” and enter the scenario to take it in a different direction.
The production is also being adapted as a podcast.
“The conversation is always different depending on the audience,” says Kimberlee Walker. “There’s not one magic answer. The idea is that it’s a rehearsal for reality.”
Usually, someone who works at a local crisis line role plays a call during the talkback portion of the play.
“Once we’ve seen this we’re more prepared to try in real life,” says Kimberlee Walker.
Unable to host live performances during the pandemic, TOTB created Unmute for Zoom. This allows the audience to not only watch the performance but join in.
The process of converting the play to run on Zoom was a bit like creating a television show with several different locations. “It was a puzzle to work out,” says Cedric Martin, co-writer and production manager, and youth ministry leader at Toronto United Mennonite Church. “We wanted to make sure it still had that ‘live theatre’ feel.”
Alongside the production, TOTB shares information on resources available and invites audience members to contribute.
TOTB is not a Mennonite theatre company; however, their subjects and production style have enabled partnerships MCC and other Mennonite entities to spark conversations on topics like conscientious objection (Gadfly), restorative justice (Forgiven/Forgotten) and sexual misconduct (#ChurchToo – which they presented at the Global Anabaptist Peacebuilding Festival in the Netherlands in 2019).
“We are so thankful for the support of the Mennonite community that hatched us,” says Kimberlee Walker.
Learn more about the production here: