We are in a critical moment in our society’s relationship to social and political conflict. Public debates about contentious issues are increasingly polarized, inflammatory and shame-based. Designed by Sarah Garton Stanley, Associate Artistic Director of Canada’s National Arts Centre English Theatre and Marcus Youssef, one of Canada’s leading contemporary playwrights, Awkward and Embarrassing Conversations is part performance and part participatory workshop. Working with the idea of nurturance, it invites self-identified groups (social, work-related, political, recreational) to ask questions and speak about subjects that normally feel too risky to voice publicly.

There are four parts to the performance/workshop:

Part 1 is a performance. Marcus and Sarah employ a series of tenets they have devised to encourage honest, risk-embracing dialogue about difficult subject matter relevant to the participating group, topics each fears might get them “voted off this island.” They use these tenets to interrogate each other publicly, rigorously and lovingly about their own struggles in relationship to relevant issues of power, privilege and difference.

In Part 2 & 3, Sarah and Marcus offer participants a guided series of exercises that allow the participants to have their own awkward conversations about the themes that have previously been identified by the group’s leaders. This section’s length varies from 90 minutes to a full day, depending on the size of the group and the overall length of the session.

In Part 4, Marcus and Sarah lead the group in structured discussions of their experiences, giving participants space to share insights, ask questions and offer reflections on their awkward conversations.

Throughout the workshop, Marcus and Sarah model an environment in which there is permission to be vulnerable and make mistakes, and highlight the critical importance of honesty and trust in fostering authentic dialogue and meaningful change. Awkward and Embarrassing Conversations embraces the productive value of difference and helps builds deeper, more resilient relationships.

It was so refreshing to be able to chew through some difficult and thorny issues in an environment which felt open, reflective and genuinely honest. It feels like Awkward Conversations could be a catalyst for change in all sorts of different environments.”

–Matthew Austin, MAYK, Mayfest, Bristol, UK

Awkward and Embarrassing Conversations. Designed and Facilitated by Sarah Garton Stanley and Marcus Youssef. Directed by Chelsea Haberlin. In Development.

Produced by Neworld Theatre. Developed with the support of Farnham Maltings and Volcano Theatre.


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