Talking about sex can be awkward. Being a teen can be really awkward. When those two things come together, the result is the kind of epic-level awkwardness that launched a million young-adult paperbacks and probably also John Hughes’s career. Now heading into its 32nd season, the folks behind Insight Theatre, a youth-led group run through Planned Parenthood Ottawa, believe that with pragmatism, chutzpah and a healthy sense of humour, it’s possible to talk to teens about sexuality without being overcome by awkwardness.
The season launches officially on Sept 19 with a free show at the Main branch of the Ottawa Public Library. The 10 youth who are involved in the group spent the summer developing this year’s performance.
“The whole process going through the summer, through the training, we get tons of workshops from all sorts of amazing people from the community telling us about all sorts of things, from STIs, to sexual pressure, to fatphobia, queer identities, all sorts of stuff,” says Alice Hunter, who is now in her third year with the theatre. “And then we take all of that, and we improvise scenes as a troupe covering those topics and try to put a bit of a fun spin on it all.”
Insight brings its performances into high schools and middle schools throughout the Ottawa area. “We’ve been expanding more and more into doing community presentations as well,” says Insight coordinator Luna Allison. “We’re totally open to performing, really, anywhere . . . We’re hoping to kind of just engage people on their own terms and help give them a broader sense of what sexuality and sexual identity and gender can be.”
This year the show includes four short vignettes about living with HIV and a skit about sexual violence from the perspective of a perpetrator.
“A lot of the sexual assault that occurs is about bad communication, about misunderstandings, about not understanding the importance of consent,” Allison says.
The show will also include a monologue about two-spirit identity, which was developed after a performance at the school in the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg First Nation community.
“We’ve briefly mentioned two-spirit in past shows but haven’t really had as much of an opportunity to fully explain it, as we weren’t necessarily knowledgeable enough to be able to speak truthfully to it,” Hunter says. The show will also talk about sex from different levels of ability. “That’s something that’s not touched on by anyone at all, really. I think it’s really cool and important that we’re able to include that in the show this year.”