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Theatre and Dance


Ann Haugo

Mentor Department

Theatre and Dance


Theatres and other artistic venues have often been referred to as a "safe space." Based on a survey of adults between the ages of 18 and 67, of all genders, and 40% coming from non-arts-related careers, it was determined that 70% of people believed that an artistic space should be required to be a safe space. Survey participants demonstrated that a safe space meant a judgement free zone, a space of mutual respect and collaboration. This contradicts the official definition, which requires a safe space to be free of bias, conflict, criticism, or potentially threatening actions, ideas, or conversations. With this dissonance between the official definition and the public's views on safe spaces, the arts have been misbranded as a 'safe space.' The misbranding of theatre has become a toxic characteristic that promotes censorship of threatening or challenging work. In this two-part study, public opinions on safe spaces are presented and a conversation between theatre artists on the basis of threatening work is analyzed. Jackie Sibblies Drury's play We Are Proud to Present a Presentation About the Herero of Namibia, Formerly Known as Southwest Africa, From the German Südwestafrika, Between the Years 1884-1915 and Bruce Norris's Downstate are analyzed for their threatening content and challenging benefits to audiences. Although the theatre cannot be defined as a safe space because of its innate characteristic to challenge artists and audience members, it can provide a supportive and equitable environment. This branding provides the audience experiences they desire while not inhibiting work that is presented onstage. By supporting the theatre as an equitable space, artists have the opportunity to present challenging work that provokes an open dialogue.

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