Addendum: for actors

Addendum: for actors

This is an addendum on the previous post, on Platonic Consent:


So, something we/I need to remember is that the model of consent culture that I work to promote is still unusual. It’s really useful in a number of settings – sex, working with children, massage/body work, working with people with intellectual disabilities/reduced cognitive ability, interacting with people with PTSD, trauma, or mental illness… like, a LOT of settings, and a LOT of people. But even if that’s the majority of people (like, point out a person with none of the above qualities, they’re outnumbered by everyone else), it’s not everyone. And most frustratingly, people who don’t fall into those categories get offended when you treat them as if they do. “I’m not fragile or weak!” they declare (probably not in those words), “I don’t need you to ask me what I’m comfortable with. I’m fine. Stop being so sensitive.”

So one downside to be explicitly verbal in your consent-seeking is that it makes the everyman uncomfortable. And my career in sexuality education involves making the everyman uncomfortable. But your career as a performer does not. (or rather, performance art does involve discomfiting the audience, but in a way that they WANT to be tilted askew.) You don’t succeed as a performer unless people feel like they got something out of the performance. So to verbally and explicitly ask for consent, you’d throw a lot of people out of their enjoyment of the show.

Another downside in verbally asking for consent is that, especially in ren faire comedy shows, the best way to get a volunteer is to appoint one. If you ask “who wants to come up for this joke” you’ll get fewer takers than if you pick out someone laughing and say “okay, you’re part of the show now!” That’s… well, that’s part of the joke. Laughing reluctance is almost the point of some gags. There are some people who feign reluctance, but are actually excited to be up on stage – the protests are to show people that they’re up there unwillingly, when they’re actually happy to be there and to be the center of attention. People expect that, at an interactive show. I personally can’t operate using that kind of metric – I ask, “are you actually reluctant, or do you want to be doing this?” when my clients feign embarrassment, but that won’t work at a comedy show.

I think the baseline “if they’re laughing and making eye contact” is a fairly decent sign of who would be willing to participate in a gag. If you want to add in a verbal bit to give people an out, I might suggest joking with a fellow cast member, “oooh, look at everyone looking away, trying to get us to not pick them!” to give audience members an idea of what they can do to try and get you to not pick them. Or even, “look at people frowning, boo, we don’t want an ugly sad face on stage.” It’s making fun of people as a group, but again, gives individual people an out to look “unappealing” as a mark. (I’m not a comic, so obviously these lines can be modified to sound actually funny, while still giving people an idea of what you’re not looking for, so they can emulate that.)

It also helps that, as actors, you have extensive training in body language and facial expressions. One of the reasons that I got into consent culture (and polyamory and kink) was that I’m rubbish at reading nonverbal cues, so I joined social movements where I wouldn’t be expected to. I need every bit of verbal information in order to figure out what other people want. You are honestly probably better at guessing what people feel, based on their face and body.

I think, given that skill of yours, and the idea that you warn people at the beginning of a show, you’re doing what due diligence you CAN do, in a casual and comedic setting like an interactive performance.

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