Listen: Salt House Theatre Company’s Dan Widdowson speaks with Laura Bennett about their new confronting play that explores sexual consent and bystander responsibility
With the Australian Government still in the spotlight for its handling of sexual assault allegations, and schools continuing to discuss when and how to teach students about consent, Salt House Theatre Company’s latest production Rape and Other Acceptable Practices is confronting some very hot topics, at just the right time.
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Written by actor and producer Dan Widdowson, the show presents audiences with a situation where they’ve witnessed an assault along with a character in the show, and have to wrestle with what their responsibilities are as someone who knows what’s occurred, and how the victim expects them to fulfil those responsibilities.
Dan told Hope 103.2 he chose this project because he liked “writing stuff that stimulates conversation, not necessarily writing answers to hard topics”.
“In relation to rape, to sexual abuse, to gaslighting and all that kind of stuff, I think it’s unfortunately very common, and I’ve unfortunately had a lot of people in my life who’ve experienced these types of issues,” Dan said.
“I didn’t understand for a long time [that] if something happens why don’t you just report it? But then there’s so much tape around what you can and can’t say, and that seems unfair.
“So, I just wanted to explore this scenario: what if something like this happened in front of you, are you responsible? And, if you are responsible, what are you responsible for? How do you engage, or interact or prevent, or report or whatever come next?”
Considering the current challenges around teaching consent, and why it’s still an issue in society, Dan said “consent is something that should be so obvious, shouldn’t it?”.
“For anyone in any relationship, it’s just got to be there for everyone,” he said.
“I’ve been surprised by some male friends of mine who will talk about a situation or gloat about a situation, and I think, ‘Dude that’s just not OK’. Consent has got to be number one.”
As a father of two, Dan also believes consent can be taught from a young age in a range of contexts.
“With my daughter I’ll be tickling her and she’s laughing [away] and then says, ‘Stop, stop, stop’,” Dan said.
“My lesson to her is, ‘OK, you’ve said stop, I’m going to stop now’, as opposed to, ‘I’m going to keep on tickling you because this is funny and you’re laughing’.
“‘Stop’ means ‘stop’ in all situations. And I think the more we can normalise that in other areas then obviously it’ll become plain and clear in sexual and relationship areas.”
Rape and Other Acceptable Practices is very much for mature audiences, with Dan stressing that while there’s no nudity on stage and the events play out in the most appropriate ways possible in live theatre, it’s not an easy to show to watch.
“It’s a very dark and graphic show and it’s designed to confront and it’s designed to make the audience feel uncomfortable,” he said.
“It touches on the perspective of, ‘if you see this happen and you do nothing, are you in some way saying that’s acceptable?
“If I see something play out in front of me and I don’t do anything about it, I don’t do anything to help, I don’t talk to anyone about it, am I then saying that’s acceptable?
“It’s not saying that’s the case. But it certainly discusses that.”
Rape and Other Acceptable Practices will be playing on the Central Coast and Sydney CDB for a limited season from May. Visit salthousetheatrecompany.com. Listen to the full interview with Dan Widdowson in the player above.