ANNIVERSARY: Youth education program Insight Theatre turns 30 — and celebrates with a gala

ANNIVERSARY: Youth education program Insight Theatre turns 30 — and celebrates with a gala

Youths perform for students at Ridgemont High School. Photo credit Ridgemont High School.

Next week, Planned Parenthood Ottawa is celebrating the 30th anniversary of Insight Theatre, a not-for-profit education program that is created by youth, for youth. With Insight, theatre troupes go into schools across the city to tackle tough subjects that range from contraception to body image, all while using humour and drama to address these issues. Ottawa Magazine’s Emma Paling chatted about everything from sexual health to ‘80s hairstyles with the program’s coordinator, Nadine Thornhill.

How did Insight Theatre start?
Insight Theatre was started in 1982. Two employees with Planned Parenthood Ottawa had seen a different theatre [program] that another city was running. They really liked the concept and so they took steps to develop a similar peer education program here in Ottawa.

Why is the program important?
The program’s really important for a number of reasons. There’s a lot of research to show that youth, once they hit adolescence and puberty, really start going to their peers for information around sexuality and sexual health. So one of the reasons it’s so important is that we give accurate and comprehensive information to our troupe, which they can then share with their peers. Youth are much more receptive to getting that information from people their own age.

What does it mean to hit the 30-year mark?
It’s a big milestone. Sexuality is always relevant to young people and it’s always very important to them. I think it’s especially important at this time in their lives as they start to think about who they are as sexual beings, their orientation, gender identity, etc. There’s always a need for information and it also speaks to the fact that this is a method that really works and is really effective. We’re constantly hearing from alumni and even people who were in Insight 20-25 years ago, and they still remember their time in Insight very fondly and think of it as one of the best times of their high school career. It’s a very profound experience for the Insight troupe members in particular.

Why did you choose to hold a Gala to celebrate the anniversary?’
It’s always great to have a party! Anything that’s been around for 30 years deserves to be acknowledged. Certainly we wanted to do something to acknowledge the contribution our troupe members, volunteers, and staff made to make Insight successful. It’s a way to say thank you and it’s a way of presenting Insight to the community and giving people the recognition they deserve.

How has Insight changed over the years?
Well you can definitely see the aesthetic changes in hairstyles since the ‘80s! That’s on a superficial level of course. We’ve also introduced different topics over the years as different aspects of sexuality become prevalent. Part of what we explore now in Insight is sexual orientation and gender identity. That’s something you wouldn’t have seen in Insight 30 years ago. That discussion around what is gender, what is gender identity, the idea that your identity may not match with your biological set — but that it’s okay. These things weren’t really in the public consciousness years ago. This has become more of the focus, especially the last couple of years with issues we see around bullying. We really tried to bring that in and depict that as just one of many normal sexual identities. There’s also definitely more of a focus on relationships, healthy communication, on knowing your own body and how to communicate that to a partner. Body image is another thing that’s come into the show more recently. There’s more focus now on some social issues as well as the health and biological aspects of sex.

How did you decide when to introduce those new aspects?
Those generally come from the youth. One of the really important aspects of Insight Theatre is that the program is really driven by the youth in our program. One of the ways we stay relevant for the youth we’re performing for is to understand what they want to know about, and what’s important to them. So it’s based on feedback we get from the audience and the troupe. We feel it’s important to listen to them, because they’re the ones who know. We have troupe members who come in and say they really want to do some work around gender identity, and trans-identity, for example.

Where do you see Insight going in the future?
I think our standard formula is tried and true. We’ll still be in schools performing live. I’d love to see some more supplementary aspects to the program online and on social media. We’d also like to take Insight to a level where it’s more customizable. Where teachers or even youth can select what it is they want to be learning about, so Insight can be a bit tailored to each school and each group we’re performing for. Ottawa is such a diverse city so sometimes we find that the educational needs of one community are different than the needs of another community.

Join Planned Parenthood Ottawa for Insight Theatre’s 30th Anniversary Gala on June 2 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $50, $20 for students. Visit for more information and tickets.