Regaining control – examining abusive relationships through theatre

Together with Starick, YMCA WA Base Belmont and Constable Care Child Safety Foundation, on 7th August, we watched the Theatrical Response Group’s insightful production ‘Control Freak’ which focused on controlling and abusive relationships.

This immersive theatrical production gave 15 young people of mixed ages and genders, the opportunity to be a part of the show as the actors prompted questions and engaged the young people in conversations about how the characters may be feeling and if they have ever been in a similar situation personally.

Pictured: The actors from Theatrical Response Group, (L-R) Hock Edwards, Louis Spencer, Kate Willoughby and Nadia Collins
Pictured: The actors from Theatrical Response Group, (L-R) Hock Edwards, Louis Spencer, Kate Willoughby and Nadia Collins

One of the actors, Kate Willoughby said the discussions they were having were great conversation starters amongst young people.

“It’s good to get young people thinking about what they can do if they see their friends in a bad relationship and how they can help,” she said.

“An abusive or unhealthy relationship isn’t just physical – it can just be a set of controlling behaviours. The partner may not be angry and aggressive all the time, but if it does keep happening, it becomes a cycle and it can get bigger and bigger until the person snaps.”

Kate asked the group of kids why we as a society needed to look at ‘normality’ differently.

“If we see these bad situations as ‘normal’ relationship behaviours, then maybe we need to look at why this is happening and what else may be going on”  

Kate Willoughby

Nadia Collins, another actor said there are a lot of factors going on in an abusive relationship and it was rarely straightforward.

“People may ask – why doesn’t she just leave? But there are so many other things to consider, especially when there are financial matters, people are living together and their lives are entwined,” she said.

Actor Louis Spencer said he was very concerned about the Domestic Violence statistics in Australia and it was such a big issue to talk about with young people.

“Many DV situations are ingrained from a young age and for young people seeing these things, it’s become normal behaviour and that is unacceptable,” he said.

“The difference in this type of theatre is that the young people are presented with a scenario where DV is happening and they have an opportunity to pause the scene and replay it differently by walking through it and talking about ways the characters could interact in a healthier way.”  

Pictured: The actors mid-scene
Pictured: The actors mid-scene

Belmont YMCA Youth Worker Caroline Smith said they had asked the kids what issues they wanted to learn more about, whether it was drugs, bullying or unhealthy relationships and they chose the latter – a play about controlling relationships.

“They were most interested in learning about bad relationships and lots of kids may have some level of exposure to this content, so we had a discussion about what this might look like and what we could do in that situation,” she said.

“The Youth Centre is a safe place for them where they can chat to us in a comfortable place without feeling judged. Sometimes it’s good to talk to someone older that is not your parents.”

Caroline Smith

Constable Care Child Safety Foundation Arts and Education Manager Danielle Antaki said that ‘Control Freak’ was the most universally applicable show that can relate to most people.

“There’s no manual on what a relationship should look like, we only learn about relationships through our family and they may or may not be healthy,” she said.

“The only training we have available to us in relationships is what we have been exposed to ourselves in our own lives – our own families, close friends and sometimes if these relationships have not been the most positive or even destructive, then you can go through life thinking that it’s normal to do these things and behave in certain ways to the people you are closest to, or to expect these things from people you are in a relationship with.”

“Throughout the play, we tried to keep the message focused on the fact that she (the actor) never did anything wrong and didn’t deserve the violence no matter what.”

Danielle Antaki

Danielle commissions the shows and directs them and she said Constable Care’s program was about getting young people to really think about what happens in relationships and how each person in a relationship can be affected by different sorts of behaviours.

“The wonderful thing about theatre is that you can do that without it really being about anyone in particular, because it is about the fictional characters we are portraying, but everything that happens is powerfully relevant to real situations that young people may find themselves in,” she said.

Words by Jacqui O’Leary

If you or anyone you know needs help contact:

  • Lifeline on 13 11 14
  • Women’s Domestic Violence Line on 9223 1188 or 1800 007 339 (country)
  • Men’s Domestic Violence Line on 9223 1199 or 1800 000 599
  • Crisis Care on 9223 1111
  • 1800 Respect on 1800 737 732
  • Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800
  • Beyond Blue on 1300 22 46 36
  • Headspace on 1800 650 890

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