A safe stage to unpack relationships and sexuality education

Issue: Volume 102, Number 1

Posted: 2 February 2023
Reference #: 1HAZ8N

Relationships and sexuality education can be a confronting topic for kaiako and ākonga, but a new Auckland Theatre Company stage production and the way in which it approaches consent can help to tackle difficult discussions alongside a well-planned relationships and sexuality education programme delivered by teachers.

Students are an active part of the production.

Students are an active part of the production.

Karin McCracken, co-creator of the production Yes Yes Yes, says the show is one that she wished she had seen when she was 16 years old.

“Consent never came up for me when I was in high school, and if it did, it was in the context of something terrible happening. So it was scary, and coloured how I saw sexual relationships of any kind.”

The production is being put on by the Auckland Theatre Company, as one of their creative learning productions selected for suitability to classroom and curriculum-related content, explains Sam Phillips, who is the theatre’s participation coordinator.

“These productions have matinees but also have a comprehensive education programme for a teacher. There are student workshops delivered by theatre artists, education packs and more recently, online and digital resources.”

The idea for Yes Yes Yes was inspired by another production, which looked at the culture around sexual assault and sexual violence. Karin and her co-creator Eleanor Bishop had feedback that it would be great to have the production in schools. However, Karin who had previously worked as a sexual violence prevention educator, did not feel it was appropriate for schools.

“We really wanted to make something that was strengths-based, positive and fun. Something that looked at the skills that we know young people already have around navigating healthy relationships and build from there.”

The process of creating the show was guided by Karin’s experience but also the Ministry of Education’s Guidelines for Relationships and Sexuality Education Years 9–13, which says that all young people equally deserve an education that enables them to develop healthy relationships, to become positive in their own identities, and to develop competencies for promoting and sustaining their own wellbeing and that of others.

Relationships and sexuality education forms part of the Health and Physical Education learning area in The New Zealand Curriculum (NZC), and delivering this education is mandatory for state and state-integrated schools.

The guidelines encourage education that looks at building relationships, understanding issues related to gender, identity, consent, attraction and values. The show tackles these issues in a way that opens up dialogue in a safe environment.

As classroom teachers are the experts in terms of pedagogies and the needs of their ākonga, they are ultimately responsible for the curriculum delivery. They are more likely to have trusting relationships with their ākonga and connections with their families and communities. This play, however, is a great example of how teachers can supplement their local curriculum to strengthen the overall relationships and sexuality programme. Outside providers can also support schools to develop and implement their programme.

Created by young people, for young people

To understand the issues from the perspective of ākonga, Karin and Eleanor spent time in schools talking with young people about a range of relationship topics. Some of these interviews form part of the show as a collection of videos.

“They’re just these incredible titbits of wisdom and very generous knowledge from young people across Aotearoa about all sorts of things. Dating, friendships, relationships, and objectification – they run the whole gamut,” says Karin.

Karin McCracken

Karin McCracken

The show also has a story line involving two couples. The first couple have a good relationship, the second do not. Their stories are conveyed using monologues but also audience participation. At the start of the show volunteers are called in to read some of the characters in the storyline.

There is also a section of the show where the audience can text in their thoughts or feelings anonymously and the messages get projected onto a screen at the back of the stage.

Some of the issues that are covered include nonverbal cues surrounding consent and the need to check in with the other person as to how they are feeling. It is hoped audiences will leave the show with a better understanding of how to deal with disclosures.

“So, if a friend or someone in your community comes to you and discloses that they have been harmed, how might we deal with that? This was something that we heard time and time again when we were working with schools. Young people were navigating this tricky terrain with friends, and they had very little training or knowledge of how to manage it safely,” explains Karin.

“Disclosing harm can be very high stakes to both the person disclosing and the person receiving, so there’s quite an emphasis, particularly in the third act, on how someone might respond to something like that.”

Resources help kaiako unpack

To assist students with the difficult issues surrounding the production, schools are given education packs that help with preparing to attend the show as well as with discussion that may occur afterwards.

The materials have been developed by Anna Richardson, who was teaching some of the Year 13 students that Karin and Eleanor worked with to create
the show.

She observed how they set up the workshop spaces to ensure a safe space for the ākonga. This included having co-constructed contracts with the students, having a rape prevention representative, and having a safe space outside of the room if students wanted to leave.

“Watching all of these sorts of parameters being constructed around this workshop started the conversation about having documentation that could support teachers when they were bringing students to the show itself,”
says Anna.

“There is the pre-show information kit that allows teachers and students to unpack their thoughts and feelings around consent. Then there is the show itself, which is designed to create a safe space, which benefits students.”

The post-show pack aims to help teachers and students continue discussions in a similarly safe manner. It contains ideas for constructing contracts as to how they work together in the classroom as well as questions that can be used to promote discussion in a gentle, non-confronting way.

As well as being an excellent resource for relationship and sexuality education, the show is beneficial for drama students. The show’s use of contemporary techniques for storytelling allows students to discuss many aspects that relate to the drama and arts curriculum.

“There’s so much that ākonga can talk about in the classroom both internally in terms of Verbatim Theatre, thinking about the way we tell stories and in the creation of their own devised work, but also in reviewing and unpacking theatre in an exam context,” says Anna.

Karin McCracken. Photo by Jinki Cambronero.

Karin McCracken. Photo by Jinki Cambronero.

Yes Yes Yes 

For more information about the show visit the Auckland Theatre Company website(external link).


For a collection of relationships and sexuality education resources and guidelines for schools, visit hpe.tki.org(external link).

Previous related articles in  Education Gazette:

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero, reporter@edgazette.govt.nz

Posted: 9:37 am, 2 February 2023

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