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Student Blog: Setting Boundaries in Theatre

It's okay to say no to things.

Student Blog: Setting Boundaries in Theatre

This past month, in my job especially, I've been feeling a lack of boundary from some of my friends and coworkers. I realized that I need to state and enforce my own in order to feel comfortable and safe at work and in my dorm. As I was considering this, I began to think about boundaries in theatre and how we can create a safe environment for everyone on and off stage. The first step is quite clear: creating boundaries that allow you to feel comfortable. From there, everything can feel much more difficult. I want to help with that. Here is my plan for creating an accountable boundary system at work and in my future theatrical endeavors.

1. Discover Your Boundaries:

This may sound like writing out a list of things that make you uncomfortable, but for the sake of personal growth, I ask you to dig deeper. Personally, I don't like it when people who are physically larger than me, especially men, stand very close. The first thing to observe is how you react. When men stand very close to me, or when they're in my face, I get anxious, no matter how much I like or trust that person. "But that's not reasonable!" you may say. So let's do some soul searching and find out why I react in that way. I searched, and now I know why. My reason is not one I feel inclined to share on the internet, but it's important that I recognize the source of my anxieties. At first, I was concerned my reaction was the result of sexism or bigotry on my part, but upon establishing my "why", I understand that my anxiety is reacting in a protective way and not out of hatred of men or others. Because of this, I can validate my boundary to myself. Once you have validated your own boundary, it's much easier to enforce. You don't experience the same amount of cognitive dissonance as you would if your boundary seemed unfounded even to yourself. This process will take a lot of time because you probably have a lot of things that make you feel uncomfortable or unsafe. Take that time, and choose to reflect on as many situations as you can.

2. Make Your Boundaries Known:

Telling people your boundaries can be both intimidating and empowering. You may be afraid that people will laugh you off, or not listen, or even that you won't get the roles you want as a result. These fears are understandable, but you can't perform at your best when uncomfortable or feeling unsafe. Talk to your director and creative team about boundaries you expect them to adhere to for blocking, costuming, and choreography. Best case scenario, the director asks everyone to share their boundaries with the cast and crew in order to facilitate a safe creative space, and then they enforce those boundaries. (Hey directors, ask everyone to share their boundaries in order to facilitate a safe creative space. Enforce those boundaries.) Worst case scenario, they say no. It's okay to be told no. "Don't take no for an answer" is harmful at Best. Generally, it means that something isn't right for one or both parties. If it's not right, don't push it. Things are right when you are protected by your boundaries. In addition to telling your director, let your castmates know. Chances are, if a director goes against a boundary, but your scene partner backs you up, the director will give in. If your castmates are disrespectful of your boundaries, let the creative team know, and ask them to take action. If the cast and crew together disrespect you, you are in a completely toxic environment, and no show or role is worth it. Obviously, you should know what you're getting into. If you want to play Jenna in Waitress, understand that you have to be comfortable with scenes that allude to intercourse. A director cannot and will not change a show for you. But if you want to be Belle in Beauty and the Beast, and you don't want to kiss your counterpart, the director might find a way around it for you. Consider your own boundaries when you audition and don't expect enormous concessions if you audition outside of your comfort zone.

3. Enforce Your Boundaries:

This may be the hardest part of the system. Enforcing your boundaries can make you feel high-maintenance, when in reality, boundaries are meant to be respected. Here are some phrases to use when someone is disrespecting your boundaries:

They didn't mean to/Gentle "I" statements:

-Hey, I want to remind you that I don't like [action].

-Please remember that [action] makes me uncomfortable.

-I feel uncomfortable when [action], please don't do that.

-I feel disrespected when [action].

You've reminded them several times/Stern "I" statements:

-I've told you I don't like [action]. Please stop.

-I'm not comfortable with [action]. Please stop.

-I feel disrespected when my boundaries are ignored.

-Please stop. I don't appreciate that.

It's on purpose/Holding "You" accountable (Can escalate situations):

-You are crossing my boundaries.

-You know I don't like it when you [action].

-Stop. You are disrespecting me.

-You are doing this on purpose. Stop.

They're doing it on purpose and escalating the situation (take action):

-Leave.

-Let whoever is in charge know.

-Do not resort to violence.

-If you feel you are being harassed, seek counsel from a professional.

4. Rinse and Repeat:

Setting boundaries is a continuous process. You may find over time that you become more comfortable with some things and less comfortable with others. Take the time to consider those feelings in their entirety, and adjust your boundaries as necessary. As you move through life, you should find that simply setting boundaries creates a much less stressful and much more comfortable environment for you to live, work, and create in. Prioritize your mental health, and don't forget to grow.

Stay safe, happy, healthy, and hydrated,

Jana Denning



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