This essay investigates the expanded opportunities for theatre as a mode of campus or community education around sexual assault in light of this shift toward affirmative consent. I will do so by analyzing multiple stages of the development and performance of a devised play on these themes titled 100 Shades of Grey that I co-created with multiple ensembles of undergraduate and postgraduate students at NUI Galway during 2014–16.2 I consider the relationship among affirmative sexual-consent educational paradigms, theatre, and university education at a time of heavy coverage of persistently high rates of sexual assault within educational contexts, particularly at the university level.
By using the process of 100 Shades of Grey’s creation as my central case study, I identify how our various ensembles’ theatrical process of working proactively and deliberately with the discourse of affirmative consent shaped the dramaturgical structures of our play over the course of its several iterations. Based on these experiences I offer the Brechtian and feminist theatre approaches that we employed as a productive pairing with affirmative consent’s invitation to critically evaluate “sexual scripts” that underlie the dynamic of gaining and giving consent between sexual partners. Sexual scripts play out “normative cultural expectations and behaviors,” which, when isolated, make evident “the cognitive schema of a normative progression of events in a sexual encounter” (Johnson and Hoover). These scripts, as commonly understood in the social sciences literature, are highly gendered and heteronormative, as the “traditional sexual script presupposes that the man advances the sexual contact, and the woman resists and serves as the gatekeeper of sexual activity” (ibid.). Kristen Jozkowski and Zoë Peterson emphasize that affirmative consent–focused approaches must also have a critical gender dimension as “women and men are socialized to communicate and interpret consent in different ways” (518). For sexual scripts to change, sexual relations and gender norms must be viewed critically and performed with a difference. It is this challenge we attempted to stage through "100 Shades of Grey."