Fresh Theatre and St Kilda Gatehouse

Monday, 17 October 2016

Writer Kim Porter

Fresh Theatre for Social Change recently worked in partnership with St Kilda Gatehouse in Dandenong at the Young Women’s Centre to deliver an eight-week applied theatre program exploring relationships, conflict, gender issues and the power of choice through carefully crafted workshops.  The workshops included theatre activities, script work, pastoral care and worked towards the final presentation of new and innovative work by the young women.

The Young Women’s Project is a program of St Kilda Gatehouse that supports young women aged 12-25 who are at risk of or affected by commercial sexual exploitation in the greater Dandenong area. We do this through working in partnership with various service providers such as Fresh. One of the biggest contributors to exploitation is social isolation. Young women yearn for a sense of belonging where they can explore their identity, self esteem and feel safe and supported.

Through the group work that the Young Women’s Project provides (among other forms of support) for the young women, we worked in collaboration with Fresh to provide that space for the young women to feel connected and safe to explore who they are.

At week five of the program, the participants had devised six scenes depicting a broad range of experiences and personal thoughts communicating their understanding of factors contributing to relationships being healthy or unhealthy as well as helpful and unhelpful gender roles. Quotes for the short play they have created include...

“Don’t say I’m not capable.”

“You can’t control me and love me at the same time.”

“Relationships are diverse, they can come in many forms, some are healthy, some are not.”

“I didn’t know what was right and wrong for me but I am learning.”

“Everyone is beautiful on the inside, don’t look at yourself and compare it to others.”

Their work culminated in a short performance in week eight in which they were encouraged to invite one woman from their supportive circle to experience the theatrical work they produced.

The participants had little to no experience in performance and the creation of dramatic work. Their consistent attendance each week as well as their enthusiasm within the workshop manifested in some lovely moments of theatre and authentic personal contributions. The experiential nature of applied theatre has enabled the participants to engage in the themes and issues in both first and third person, from a place within the issue and direct personal experience and as an external artist examining the choices of characters and speaking into the circumstances being portrayed. It is with equal measures of nerves and excitement that the participants prepared for the performance over the final three weeks.

The performance brought out many feelings amongst the small audience of pride for the confidence that was displayed, excitement for the insight they showed and happiness to see the young women working together and building a supportive community that reduces the level of social isolation, which in turn, reduces their risks of commercial sexual exploitation.

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