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Domestic violence in the theatrical spotlight

Domestic violence is a widespread problem at the best of times, but the stresses of the pandemic, economic downturn and resultant lockdowns make it worse. Looking to bring into the light issues many people face behind closed doors, Theatre of the Beat is presenting Unmute: The Impact of a Pandemic on Gender-Based Violence.

A pair of performances this week brings the virtual show to the area. It’s being presented Friday at 7:30 p.m. in conjunction with the Waterloo North Mennonite Church and St. Jacobs Mennonite Church. On Saturday, again at 7:30 p.m., it’s the turn of the Elmira Mennonite Church.

The production was launched in November as part of domestic violence awareness month, in keeping with the theatre group’s mandate. Since Theatre of The Beat’s inception in 2011 in Toronto, their goal has been to be the catalyst for social justice conversations. A decade of touring productions has seen the theatre troupe travel from coast to coast, trek through the United States and even visit the Netherlands. 

Jonathan Brubacher is pastor at Elmira Mennonite Church, which this weekend offers up an online prodction of Unmute: The Impact of a Pandemic on Gender-Based Violence. [Damon MacLean]

Over the summer, Lindsey Middleton and colleagues Cedric Martin and Kimberlee Walker worked on a script that reflects the increased risks of family violence brought on by the pandemic.

“Kimberlee Walker, who is our education and outreach coordinator, who is also one of the co-founders of Theatre of the Beat, she is a social worker by trade, and she has worked in the domestic violence field. So, she wrote a proposal to Women’s Crisis Services of Waterloo Region and DART – Domestic Assault Response Team of Waterloo Region – saying that she wanted to create a show around these themes,” explained Middleton, who’s been part of the theatre group since 2018 as a writer and performer.

“There were a lot of news articles that came out pretty early on in the pandemic saying that the rise of domestic violence was kind of skyrocketing due to the pandemic, because people now couldn’t leave their homes and they couldn’t get to those safe spaces that they normally would.”  

Middleton said the team would have weekly ZOOM meetings to progress through the production and estimates it took two months to complete the digital writing process.

“I spent a lot of the summer writing, which was honestly not a bad thing,” she said of her own time at home.

In addition to co-writing the production, Middleton is part of the cast alongside the two other writers. They’re joined by Duncan Gibson-Lockhart, Frances Loiselle, Calvin Peterson and Yusuf Zine, with facilitation done by Walker and dramaturgy by Sukhpreet Sangha.

The production was approved and saw four sold-out shows in November with attendance from all over the country. Now in its second round of touring, the shows make it to this area on the weekend.

As a forum production, the play runs at 45 minutes. Then the audience is encouraged to Unmute and take a proactive involvement in rewriting the story. Each show has a capacity of 100 people. 

Elmira Mennonite Church pastor Jonathan Brubacher is encouraging more people to register for the play.

“It’s open to anyone. We certainly welcome people from beyond our church community, beyond our church to participate – we hope that people do, because we feel it’s an important topic right now. And we would love for that to be a resource for all sorts of people in our community.” 

He adds that one of the notable aspects of the production is the audience having the ability to engage with the cast or simply sit back and enjoy the show. To register for the February 27 showing of Unmute, visit the Elmira Mennonite Church website. 

As a sort of epilogue to the production, ‘industry professionals’ will be in attendance to speak about ways to help people connect with the resources available to them if they are experiencing violence in their own homes.

Following the 15 shows now scheduled in 2021, there will be an UNMUTE tour made possible by Kindred Credit Union’s charitable funds. A podcast version of the play based in an average world is also in the works. More information on Theatre of the Beat can be found online.

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