Spreading the Sexwise message through theatre

It's an out-of-the-box way to connect with teenagers about the sensitive topics of sex and relationships.

The Theatre in Health Education Trust (THETA) previewed its updated Sexwise show at Allen Hall Theatre on Tuesday in front of an invited audience.

The show is in its 34th year; casts travel up and down the country educating and connecting with year 9-13 pupils about sexual health and relationship issues, using theatre performance and audience feedback. 

The latest cast of eight has been rehearsing for the last five weeks. They are a mix of new and returning members and all have experience in the industry through drama school training and other theatre productions.

The young actors will be split into two teams of four for the tour, traveling up the west and east coasts.

Operations manager Nina Hogg says the show is about encouraging education on important issues.

“It’s an hour of something really engaging, really age appropriate for teenagers," she said.

"Something a little bit silly and really dumb.  We try to show through the performance showcase quite negative behaviours that need to be unpacked or learned upon.”

The cast of Sexwise perform in front of an invited audience at Dunedin's Allen Hall Theatre. ...
The cast of Sexwise perform in front of an invited audience at Dunedin's Allen Hall Theatre.  PHOTO: ALLIED PRODUCTIONS
The show covers a range of sexual health dos and don'ts, which are explored with interaction with the young audiences.

“For the facilitation part of our programme, we unpack those ideas with the rangatahi and teach them a lot more about relationships and sexual health," Ms Hogg said.

“We tackle everything from pornography and sending nude photographs, the big three STIs (sexually transmitted infections) at the moment being chlamydia, gonorrhoea and syphilis.

"We talk about unwanted pregnancy and abortions to get as much of a spread as we can on the sexual health issues facing young people today. And relationship issues like ‘love-bombing’  that are really relevant for teens trying to figure out their feelings.”     

Ms Hogg said there was still work to be done with sexual health in Aotearoa and expected the touring show to continue until it "ceases to be relevant".

The show is performed at high schools, alternative education spaces and youth justice residences.  There was a particular emphasis on decile 1-6 schools, and Māori and Pasifika communities, who traditionally have poorer sexual health outcomes.

Actor Talia Mavaega has been a cast member of Sexwise for the last two years and has now stepped up to the role of co-director, alongside Jake Tupu.

The pair are tasked with the challenge of making the show relatable. 

“"For me, the biggest challenge is figuring out what is relevant for young people today because it is constantly changing," Ms Mavaega said.

"It's important to have these conversations and teach our young people how to keep talking about it.  Because it's relevant to everyone, and we shouldn't be scared anymore.  It's 2024."

It's hoped the warm response from the team's preview performance would be replicated by young audiences across the motu.

The Sexwise tour begins next week. One cast would begin in Invercargill, while the other team started in Dunedin high schools.

- By Jack Ward

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air