Arts & Entertainment, Theatre

Tuesday Night Café Theatre production ‘The Elephant’ is a powerful musical about surviving abuse

Content Warning: discussion of sexual assault

Tuesday Night Café Theatre (TNC)’s newest production The Elephant is a powerful story of survival and perseverance. Written and directed by Troy Lebane, U3 Music Education, this musical portrays characters in the aftermath of an abuser’s arrest in his former workplace and offers a powerful exploration of how survivors can regain power over their narratives.

Set within a high school theatre department, The Elephant begins after the  department’s former head is arrested for sexual misconduct against a student. The musical depicts the varied responses to this event: Ignorant principal Brad (Jacob Barton, U4 Music and Education) attempts to cover up the situation, while vice-principal Phyllis (Nina Vukelic, U2 Arts) blames Orlee (Renée Withnell, U2 Arts & Science), another teacher, for not reporting the allegations internally before involving the police. Despite this rampant victim-blaming within the administration, teachers Tanner (Lebane) and Tamara (Will Barry, U3 Arts) take a stand by actively questioning the administration’s dismissive attitude and lack of support systems available to students. 

Lebane’s writing expertly handles this heavy topic, and the musicality of his score offers a new,lighthearted mode of delivery. Each song spotlights a different character’s internal monologue, showing how complex the issue of sexual assault is at the level of individual affect. In a catchy song, titled “Couture over comfort,” Tamara encourages Tanner to come forward with his story, comparing his way of speaking up to a couture pair of shoes—uncomfortable yet unapologetic, and therefore superior to comfortable shoes.

While the show centres sexual assault and its aftermath, it does not actually portray the abuse itself. Instead, Orlee and Tanner’s sexual assault stories are told through gossip and personal monologues. These two communication methods often contradict, showing how stories become warped when spread as rumours, conveying how dismissive responses—like those of the administration—harm survivors emotionally. 

Lebane’s musical was inspired by the #MeToo movement and his own experience with sexual assault. The #MeToo movement amplifies the voices of sexual assault survivors and aims to create a dialogue that condemns abusers, particularly those in positions of power.

“Often you don’t see men represented in the narrative of coming forward because a lot of them are the perpetrators,” Lebane said in an interview with The McGill Tribune. “But there are a lot that are survivors as well, and have yet to tell their story. Toxic masculinity plays a big part in men not coming forward because they’re afraid they’ll be seen as less than or less masculine, less tough.”

Tanner routinely defies toxic masculinity throughout the show by being vulnerable, proving that there is nothing wrong about a man sharing his emotions and speaking up against his abuser. It is also worth mentioning that despite Tanner and Orlee’s internal conflicts on whether or not to come forward, their friends constantly support them. 

“I want [survivors] to know, especially men, that they are not alone,” Lebane said. “It’s a very courageous thing to come forward. It’s never going to be the right time for anything. It’s never going to feel amazing. But it’s a step in the right direction if we can hear more people’s stories.”

Although The Elephant focusses on how survivors cope with sexual assault, the musical also shares with the audience ways in how they can support survivors. By listening to and believing survivors, sexual assault will no longer be the elephant in the room. 

’The Elephant’ will have two more performances at TNC on Nov. 25 & 26 at 8 p.m.

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