In November 2017, just a few months after the #MeToo stories about Harvey Weinstein broke, The Girls Scouts of America released a guideline for parents of young girls titled “She Doesn’t Owe Anyone a Hug. Not Even at the Holidays.” The article, which encouraged parents to teach their children about bodily autonomy early, was so popular that it was reshared again this past holiday season. It’s one of many conversations that have grown out of the #MeToo movement, covering various forms of consent, some of which extend beyond sexuality.

Those conversations have in part inspired “Consenting Bodies,” a Mildred's Umbrella Theater Company reading series in which three plays will explore the meaning of consent, as well as physical and emotional trauma. The readings take place this weekend at the Rec Room downtown.

Bree Bridger, co-literary manager at Mildred’s Umbrella, says she didn’t set out to create a series about #MeToo specifically, but that the theme developed naturally.

“As I was going through submissions that we'd already received from playwrights, I noticed a couple of different patterns arising, those being plays exploring consent and violence,” she says. “Really the series is in response to works that we had already received—what playwrights were already responding to in the culture—and sent our way based on our mission.”

One of Mildred’s Umbrella’s stated goals is to feature the work of female playwrights, actors, and directors, and to promote the empowerment of women through the performing arts.

Yet it bears noting that theater communities have grappled themselves with both professional and sexual misconduct and imbalances of power between directors and actors. In 2016, the Chicago Reader published an in-depth investigation of more than two decades of abuse at that city’s Profiles Theater. And in Houston, an environment of toxic verbal abuse and bullying led to the abrupt retirement of The Alley Theatre’s longtime director Gregory Boyd in January 2018. The Chicago story led to the creation of Not In Our House, a group and movement that has since formed a code of conduct now known as the Chicago Theatre Standards. Here in Houston, the Alley recently installed a new artistic director who hopes to move forward in a positive way.

“The idea of consent doesn’t have to just involve sexual relations,” Bridger says. “There’s quite a lot of whiplash (in the program) because each play explores it from a different angle.”

In Bully, a small group of women from an aerobics class join together on the weekends to randomly attack other women on the street. One of their victims ends up in their aerobics class. The play addresses how their victim responds to that trauma and explores the anger of not having control over one’s body.

In The Morning After, a woman cheating on her long-term partner must come to terms with a sexual encounter that may not have been what it seems, and what that ultimately means for her relationship and her self-identity.

In Krav Maga!, an anxious woman with an aversion to physical contact tries to navigate the dating world while also studying the Israeli martial art. The play is about her attempts to reconcile the person she is with the person she would like to be. 

All three readings will take place at the Rec Room due to the recent sale of Chelsea Market, Mildred Umbrella’s former Montrose home assumed after it was forced to vacate its Studio 101 location last January.

“The Rec Room has been a really great venue for bringing the community in to explore new kinds of theater,” Bridger says. “We felt like they’d be great partners. It’s small and it’s intimate, but it’s also very versatile.”

Bridger says she hopes people can approach the reading with an open mind regarding what is and isn’t consent.

“We’re not only looking at it from the perspective of sexual relationships,” she says. “We’re also encouraging people to think more broadly about the role it has in all these different aspects of our lives.”

Consenting Bodies reading series, January 12–13. Tickets pay-what-you-can. Rec Room, 100 Jackson St. 832-463-0409. More info and tickets at mildredsumbrella.com.

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