By Lois Adamson

On International Women’s Day, we held a forum in connection with Nightswimming’s production of Boys With Cars – written, performed and choreographed by Anita Majumdar (Deepa Mehta’s Midnight’s Children). Boys With Cars explores issues around unchecked male privilege, female empowerment and what constitutes consent – important subject matter to consider in these turbulent times. The show contrasts the experiences of a South Asian-Canadian high school girl trying desperately to fit in, with the life of the popular girl who seems to have everything. It’s a compelling fusion of dynamic theatre and classical Indian dance.

The forum was intended for adult stakeholders – parents, educators, college and university students, administrators, artists and arts workers – interested in taking part in discussions around three key themes brought to light in the play: Cultural Appropriation, Female Empowerment and Male Privilege.

The platform for dialogue was set by youth engaged in Education & Participation programs at YPT. Their questions and responses served as the launchpad for discussion. The event was facilitated by members of the arts and education communities: Playwright Anita Majumdar; Dr. Lance McCready, who teaches in the Department of Curriculum, Teaching and Learning at OISE/University of Toronto; Andrew Townsend, Teen Programming Coordinator at Planned Parenthood Toronto; Kim Snider, teacher at Rosedale Heights School of the Arts; and YPT Artistic Director Allen MacInnis.

Our hope with the forum was not to answer questions, but to begin to explore some complex ideas that Boys With Cars brings forward, and to think about how adults might discuss these subjects with the young people in their lives. The forum discussions will inform our approach to the post-show Q&As and workshops taking place in connection with the show.

Here are a few questions that came out of our discussion that we are still thinking about:

Panelist Dr. Lance McCready made the observation that masculinity and male privilege go unmarked. Too often, when we talk about gender, what is assumed is that we are talking about women’s issues. Is this because we are afraid or unwilling to threaten masculinity or alter what it means to be male? If so, why? How can we speak with young men about their gender?

In discussions around cultural appropriation, one of the participants at the forum spoke about cultural exchange and the need for it to be multi-directional in order to be permissible. How can we uphold this focus on exchange when so many of us have such unbridled access to cultural elements through the internet? What happens when the human component is erased through technology?

In looking at female empowerment, participants wondered why empowerment is always qualified with gender. Should the goal be to talk simply about “empowerment”? Why or why not?  What does empowerment look like anyway? What do young people feel it is?

Boys With Cars plays on YPT’s Mainstage Mar. 23-Apr. 1, 2017. For more details, click here.