Banner title for the play Unmute, with a graphic of person with headphones and mask

Unmute: The Impact of a Pandemic on Gender-Based Violence (Review)

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This past weekend, 58 people attended the 22nd annual Inter-Classis Safe Church Conference hosted by the Classis Huron Safe Church Committee. The conference is held each year on the first Saturday in March, usually at Waterloo CRC.

This year, in light of the pandemic, it was hosted online. Participants joined from Classis Chatham, Huron, Eastern Canada, Quinte, Hamilton, Toronto, Niagara, Grand Rapids South, and Holland.

The conference featured Unmute, a forum theatre event that explores with an audience ways to respond to a situation of domestic violence. When asked why the conference team chose to offer the production Unmute to our Safe Church Community, Atie Ott, Coordinator for Safe Church Classis Huron, noted: “We felt that it was very relevant during COVID-19, which has put so much added pressure on families and relationships.”  

Atie continued saying, “Many of the registrants count on our annual event and come back year after year. I always look forward to meeting “old friends”,  sharing ideas, and reconnecting. Since we have been doing this for many years we have been able to streamline the work and thus provide opportunities for committee members to be involved and feel connected.”

However, it is important to appreciate that this year’s conference would inevitably feel a bit different than other events the team has hosted in the past. Atie noted as we talked earlier this week: “I will miss the human contact but we are hoping and praying that next year we will be able to meet in person again.” Amen to that, Atie—we are all ready for the day when we can meet in person!

For those who have had the pleasure of participating in the annual Classis Huron Safe Church conference (held for over two decades now), we have come to appreciate that the discussions and organizations highlighted will be very enriching for our Safe Church community.

When asked about their dedication to hosting the conference year after year, Atie responded: “Holding the event was important to our committee, not only to stay connected but also to fulfill  our Classis Huron Safe Church mandate which requires that we provide annual and ongoing training.”

The Unmute Production

This year, as we all gathered on our Zoom screens together, we were introduced to the cast and crew of Theatre of the Beat.

Theatre of the Beat (TOTB) is a Canadian touring theatre company working to catalyze conversations on social justice and its intersection with the beliefs of the communities in which we find ourselves. Since 2011, Theatre of the Beat has been staging change across North America by creating original social justice theatre and workshops for underrepresented populations. Through an immersive cultural exchange of grassroots theatre, hospitality, and philosophy, the company empowers its audience to work towards a just future (description taken from Unmute poster). 

The basic concept of this production is that we, the participants, are able to rewrite the story. As we all gathered on Zoom to watch the play, we had the opportunity to watch a story of a close group of friends trying to grapple with the reality that two women in their group—a mother and a daughter—were being physically and emotionally abused.

The man, stressed out by the reality of living through the pandemic, had started to become violent towards the members of his family. The play runs for 45 minutes the first time. We watch three families who have been very close for years come to terms with the fact that one of them is abusive and an intervention must happen to protect the lives of the family members he is becoming abusive towards.  

It is a very hard play to watch, as you sit helplessly watching a mother and a child become victims of domestic violence. However, the play is acted out a second time, this time giving the audience an opportunity to stop production at any point to rewrite the story. Scenes are evaluated and solutions are offered from the audience that will allow for a better outcome for mother and daughter caught in an abusive situation. This interactive style gave space for excellent conversation on how and when to intervene if you observe signs of domestic violence.

At one point, the cast even brought in a counsellor from the Waterloo Crisis Centre who deals with situations of abuse on a regular basis and she offered tips and ideas for how and when to support individuals in crisis. Rehearsing our roles in this setting offered everyone present an opportunity to expand our knowledge and understanding of domestic violence and how we can all be active bystanders, ensuring the health and safety of those struggling in these situations. 

It is very clear that the pandemic has dramatically increased the number of domestic violence cases globally, so events such as Unmute give us the tools to be more aware of the signs and know how to act when we are confronted with this reality in our own circles.

Many thanks to the Unmute team for their amazing production and performance and many thanks to the classis Huron safe church team. 

Please note that Safe Church offers information on domestic violence on our website. We encourage you to access these resources: Domestic Abuse Awareness: Resources

Upcoming Productions of Unmute

If you are interested in participating in a free version of this event, there are two upcoming shows, open to the public, that you can participate in for free in the next week (after these dates, be sure to check back with Theatre of the Beat for additional times). 

  • Saturday, March 13th presented by Hart House Theatre and Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work. The show runs from 7:30 to 9:30 pm EST. Sign up for your free ticket HERE (while it notes $10, this fee is optional; pay what you can). 

  • Thursday, March 18th presented by Muskoka DART (Domestic Assault Review Team). The show runs 7:30 to 9:30 pm EST. Sign up for your free ticket HERE.

PRODUCTION CREDITS

Production Manager: Cedric Martin

Director: Erin Brandenburg

Playwrights: Cedric Martin, Lindsey Middleton and Kimberlee Walker

Dramaturge: Sukhpreet Sangha

Unmute performers:

Calvin Petersen, Lindsey Middleton, Yusuf Zine, Frances Loiselle and Duncan Gibson-Lockhart

(pictured below in this order - top to bottom, left to right)

*The Unmute show poster is designed by Ali Carroll 

*The 2021 Unmute tour sponsor is Kindred Credit Union 

Resources for training, orientation, and workshops are available all year on the Safe Church website of the CRCNA. 

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