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Image by Andrew Alexander from The Ghomeshi Effect's Twitter page.

The Ghomeshi Effect tells survivors’ stories with grace, power, & respect

By Livia Belcea on January 22, 2017

Like many people, I followed last year’s notorious Jian Ghomeshi trial, and since I live in Ottawa, I felt its proximity draw me to the conversation and debate. Being a woman played an additional part in my interest in the trial and in the conversation, which raised questions about how violence against women is dealt with, both socially and legally, in our country.

Even more alarming were the statistics, which showed that one out of four of my friends will be raped, a heartbreaking reality. The conversation was very much alive, both online and offline, and I remember many heated debates with friends. They were debates because there was so much to talk about, and when the ruling acquitted Ghomeshi of his charges, we were left with even more questions.

I didn’t know it then, but the Ghomeshi trial had a significant impact on my perspective in regards to violence against women and boundaries in particular. At the time, I felt safe and respected in the relationship I was in, but what was actually feeling was privilege. It’s easy to forget or not to understand what abuse feels like when you’re not in a situation of vulnerability.

This eventually became apparent to me and I embarked into an introspective journey of the interactions I’ve had in my teens, as a young adult, and finally now, knocking on the door to my 30s. Through many broken memories, I found a new perspective and understanding of some of the events that have taken place in my life. It gave me confidence in how I would move forward as a woman who will undoubtedly experience new dynamics with new people, and perhaps even have to stand up for my boundaries.

I have to thank the uproar of feminist activism fighting to end violence against women and sensitization towards consent that has flooded mainstream media, our dialogues and our priorities, for this coming to awareness that I’ve experienced in the past year. And that is what the Ghomeshi Effect is.

The play is created and directed by Jessica Ruano. It has nothing to do with Ghomeshi’s trial or case, but rather with the aftermath and with the influx of individuals sharing their stories about rape and how the justice system has utterly failed them.

The play is equal parts spoken word and dance/contemporary movement. Six actors tell the stories of 40 sexual assault survivors, social workers, lawyers and other people whom violence against women has had an impact on their lives, through a verbatim and dance interpretation of their experiences. These individuals were completely anonymous to the actors, only their words were transcribed.

But through sheer human emotion and compassion, The Ghomeshi Effect tells the most private and vulnerable stories a person could hold inside of them, with grace, power and respect. Alone, words and movement would only convey a part of the story, but Amelia Griffin’s brilliant choreography elevated the experience to a place where you couldn’t help yourself but to feel, sympathize and understand what was conveyed. For example, the movement for rape was two hands clutching the chest, one above the other, mimicking something being ripped right out of one’s ribcage in a violent thrust forward. It was nothing short of visceral, sharp and violent, and the imagery was clear: rape takes something away from the victim.

The crowd at The Gladstone was pleasantly diverse, quite different from what I am used to seeing at large national scale theatre productions. We were introduced to The Ghomeshi Effect with a slew of startling statistics and definitions, which were crucial to understanding the gravity of the implication of the justice system failing the survivor’s plea for justice.

The Ghomeshi Effect tells the stories of many survivors who simply don’t believe or trust in the system anymore, and who have suffered more pain through the judicial system than from the rape itself. A fragmented account of multiple stories pieced together the play’s cohesive storyline, and I felt that it was appropriate, as it showed that despite a survivor’s own account and situation all victims of sexual violence share a similar experience.

The colour purple has often been used to represent the fight to end violence against women, and throughout the play, a purple hue basked over the stage. Only at the end, when one of the survivors spoke of healing and moving forward, did the lighting change into purple’s complementary counterpart: yellow. The colour yellow symbolizes a new dawn, a new beginning, and a chance at happiness. The lighting designer, Benoît Brunet-Poirier, did a wonderful job enhancing the emotions conveyed, with his manipulation of light, darkness and colour.

After the play, I stayed for the Talk Back. There were some great questions asked, and what struck me the most was how thankful the audience was to be able to have this discussion in an open forum. We were all thankful to be able to discuss rape and its implications, without judgment or stigma, and we were thankful for the voices that were given to survivors, instead of taken away.

The Ghomeshi Effect plays at the Gladstone from January 19 to 28 and at the Shenkman Arts Centre on February 2.

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