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3 min

How one play is including queer people in the conversation about sexual violence

The Ghomeshi Effect combines dance and interviews to address rape culture in Canada

(From left to right) Cast members Gabrielle Lalonde, Annie Lefebvre, creator/director Jessica Ruano, choreographer Amelia Griffin and cast member Leah Archambault. Credit: Courtesy Nina Jane Drystek

The Ghomeshi Effect, created and directed by queer artist Jessica Ruano, opens at The Gladstone in Ottawa on Jan 19, 2017.

Choreographed by Amelia Griffin, the production combines dance with interviews conducted by Ruano with sexual assault survivors, lawyers, support workers, a parole officer and people who don’t understand the concept of rape culture.

Ruano tells us more in this edited interview.

Xtra: What gave you the idea of exploring the national conversation about the Jian Ghomeshi verdict and sexual violence in a theatre production?

Jessica Ruano: When the verdict came out, everyone seemed to have an opinion about it — whether or not he was guilty, whether the trial was conducted fairly or justly. People had a lot to say and for me, I feel that theatre is a way that I can explore ideas that are interesting to me, and this is a subject that is very dear to my heart.

Why is talking about sexual violence important to you?

The majority of people in my life have had some experience of sexual violence, including myself. I think many of us feel shame and embarrassment. If we see ourselves as intelligent, capable people, how could this have happened to us? The fact is that it happens to all kinds of people and you can’t say it affects just a certain demographic.

What stood out most to you from interviewing people about sexual violence? 

How much people apologize for things that happen to them. There were a number of people who apologized for telling their stories, even though I had requested them. You tend to think of ways you could have prevented it, but blaming ourselves is not terribly helpful. We need to look at why this happens in the first place.

There have been people who have staunchly defended Ghomeshi, saying if you’re found not guilty in a court of law then that’s the end of it. What kinds of criticisms or concerns have you encountered from Ghomeshi defenders?

On Twitter I had a lot of backlash about this show. People were upset about the title and I have said quite expressly that the show is not about Jian Ghomeshi. We’re not looking at him or his trial. We’re instead looking at the conversation that has arisen because of the trial. People are now speaking openly about sexual violence and that’s what I found interesting. 

As a queer woman, how did you ensure that LGBT voices were included?

I deliberately sought them out. It was important to me to interview queer people, people of colour, people of different ages, trans people and genderqueer people. Sexual violence does happen in same-sex relationships and that’s often not taken seriously. 

It’s hard for any survivor to come forward, but is sexual violence even more taboo in the LGBT community?

From the conversations that I’ve had, one of the things that has come up is that the queer community has to be a community because we have to stick together in important politics and rights. If there’s a person in the community who is doing a lot of great work in that respect but is also accused of sexual assault, then that can really divide a community. It’s almost like breaking up a family because the queer community has to be a family in order to get anything done and to feel like there’s a place to belong. There’s pressure to give the impression that everything’s fine and we’re not the awful stereotypes that people can come up with. That pressure on staying silent is that much more potent.

Why did you incorporate dance into this piece?
Sexual violence is very much about the body and I felt that you can’t always say everything with words. Words hit you intellectually and emotionally, but the physicality hits you viscerally, like in the gut. I think maybe people don’t take into consideration sometimes the seriousness and pervasiveness of sexual violence because all they hear is statistics and hashtags. Unless it’s being communicated to you in a way that you feel it in your body, then I don’t know if much is going to be done.