What LARP can Teach Theatre about Consent

by Liz

I play with the Utah Chapter of Alliance LARP, a live action role play game, and I’ve been a theatre professional as an actress, director and choreographer in Utah for almost three decades. I have my own #metoo story, the inciting incident of which took place at a beloved local community theatre a long time ago and was lawfully resolved. In this highly charged moment, I want to briefly share some thoughts that I think could be of benefit.

LARP can be largely improvised. In order to create and maintain safety, ALU (Alliance LARP Utah) has a policy that all physical role play must be negotiated outside the play of the game. If my character wanted to hug yours, I would need to step out of the story and ask you person to person for your consent to do that. Even if we are friends in real life. It takes almost no time and I’m not allowed to hold anything against you inside or outside of the game if you do not give your consent. Seems like a small thing, but there are some big lessons in this small exchange.

Being “in the moment” is a garbage excuse for crossing the boundaries of another person’s consent. If a hobbiest LARPer can step outside of a moment in order to respect consent, an actor can certainly exert the awareness and discipline to do so within the theatrical craft. LARP is a tight community, and many players become close friends. But friendship is not permission and Community is not consent. Yes, lots of actors are “touchy feely,” or giving massages and hugs openly. But commonplace is not consent. A culture of people working creatively and emotionally together does not indicate individual consent. Just remember what you learned as a kid. Ask permission before you touch something that isn’t yours.

Now to throw in my two cents as a choreographer and director who has blocked both romance and violence. From director/choreographer to other directors and choreographers–it is unsafe, unkind and an abdication of your responsibility to ask actors to figure out moments of intimacy and violence on their own. You may be “organic” and collaborative with your process. This is not the place to err on the side of experimentation. You set the parameters of these interactions, if not for artistry then for safety. And then you hold those parameters. Be specific. Be consistent. Be communicative. And don’t allow for improvisation, indulgence in the moment or “feeling it out.” It’s literally the very least you can do.

Director/choreographer to actor–don’t change the blocking. Don’t skip fight call. Don’t phone-in or rush fight call. Be open with your choreographers and directors about your comfort, safety and process as early in the pre-production and rehearsal periods as possible. If the choreographers and directors aren’t doing their jobs, get the stage management and producers to act. If you are not being protected, and your options for recourse are ineffective, get out.

Lastly, person to person. If you have been harassed or abused please contact the appropriate authorities. It’s not your job to determine if charges should or shouldn’t be brought. Report. Please talk to mental health professionals and law enforcement. Don’t hide. Don’t speak in secret. Protect your own healing process and don’t protect perpetrators. Speak out. Inform the ignorant and awaken the negligent. Loads of things happen when people aren’t watching or listening. Don’t be silent. And don’t speak only to people who can’t effect change or hold others accountable. They may be easier to speak to, but it’s the people who can do something about it that also need to know, or nothing gets done.

When you don’t have an HR to protect you, you’re not an employee, not in a union, and criminality is difficult to establish, you may not feel like you have a lot of options. You might be right. This is why unions were formed, employee protections were created and Human Resource Departments were installed. There are people in our community who are working on the discussion of safety for non-union theatres in our area. The Chicago Theatre Standards created by #NotInOurHouse are a great resource, but it will take Utah actors and Utah theatres to create a safe Utah theatre community. If you want to get involved check out the Theatre Forum–Safety and Standards for Non-Union Theatre.

Acting as an art and craft is inherently vulnerable, but it doesn’t have to be dangerous. And it shouldn’t be. On stage or off.

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