Featured Artist: Shira Taylor

The next artist on our countdown is Shira Taylor from the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health. Shira will be treating us to a performance of her research-informed play SExT: Sex Education by Theatre:

SExT: Sex education by Theatre was born out of my commitment as a PhD candidate at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto, artist, and social activist, to use theatre as a platform to empower youth to reflect on and challenge their realities on issues related to sex education. Academic and popular literature have provided both an empirical and colloquial basis for an interactive approach to sex education recognizing its social, religious, cultural, political, and human context. Theatre is uniquely qualified to engage youth intellectually and emotionally, thus raising social consciousness and triggering social change. In pursuing my conviction that drama pedagogy may hold transformative potential for sex education, I secured funding from the CIHR Social Research Centre in HIV Prevention and partnered with the Flemingdon Health Centre and Marc Garneau Collegiate Institute, serving Flemingdon and Thorncliffe Park – designated “Neighborhood Improvement Areas” of Toronto. These communities are immigration destinations and the hub of protests opposing sex education reform. The creation process provided a safe space for 19 youth, with diverse genders (9 girls, 10 boys), ages (14-19), and cultural backgrounds (11 countries) to tell their stories, giving voice to seldom heard and often misrepresented perspectives on these contenscious, yet universal issues. Theatre workshops addressed safer sex and community issues identified by youth – gender roles, women’s attire, testing barriers, consent, cyberbullying, abuse, racism, and homophobia, culminating in a performance at the Ontario Science Centre to engage youth peers. SExT is lively and powerful collection of skits, songs, dances, poems, and raps, with audience participation, harnessing individual and group talents to probe the issues. Audiences reported finding SExT hilarious, emotional, informative, inspiring, and thought provoking.

Shira Taylor is a performer, director, producer, and doctoral candidate at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto. For her dissertation, she is exploring the use of theatre for sexual health education among youth in a priority area of Toronto. At Queen’s University, in addition to performing with Queen’s Players and Queen’s Musical Theatre, she performed in and later co-directed the social action theatre program, Existere, performed for incoming students at Queen’s by their peers, to educate them in a creative and engaging manner concerning the wide-ranging issues facing university students. Based on student reactions and positive press to the production she co-directed, Shira was commissioned by the Dean of Student Affairs to co-found and co-direct Excetera, an extension of Existere that engages Queen’s students throughout the entire academic year. Other relevant experience includes directing Hercules, Seussical the Musical, Hairspray, and Mamma Mia with youth 6-16 and running the drama program at Camp B’nai Brith of Ottawa for two summers, producing/directing/choreographing/performing a large scale “RENT” flash mob and video for World AIDS day at Dundas Square in Toronto to disseminate the results of a recent survey on social attitudes to HIV by the Canadian Foundation for AIDS Research (CANFAR) and the CIHR Social Research Centre in HIV Prevention (SRC) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GPhEk_eUW2w, and performing at the Toronto Fringe Festival for four summers with Shakey-Shake and Friends, a theatre company that uses puppets and popular culture references to make Shakespeare accessible to young audiences (Best of Fringe Kids 2012& 2015, Best Ensemble NOW Magazine). Shira is currently a CIHR Social Research Centre in HIV Prevention Trainee http://www.srchiv.ca/en/index.php/student/bio/shira_taylor and is working as the research coordinator at SickKids on the cross-Canada Arts for Social Change (ASC!) project, working closely with professional artists and change-makers across the country to further the use of the arts in social justice agendas http://art-for-social-change.ca/.



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