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Behind Those Eyes musical features top 40 songs to spread the word about violence

Photo: Rémi Yuan

It’s hard to believe that Akon’s song “Smack That” could be an educational tool.

But a student group at the University of Ottawa has partnered the R&B artist’s 2006 song with a choreographed number to educate and spread a message to students.

Unity for Action is a student-run organization that connects, motivates, and inspires individuals to promote positive change in the community. The group hosts various events throughout each year to raise money for different charities each year.

Their next production Behind Those Eyes, showing March 14–15 at the Alumni Auditorium, is an original musical that touches on themes of domestic violence, abuse, and unhealthy relationships by using pop music and flipping traditional gender roles.

President and fourth-year criminology and psychology student Andrea Polgar said she wanted to do something unforgettable for her last year with the organization. Polgar said awareness on domestic abuse was her goal, but the translation into a musical was the tricky part.

“It’s kind of weird when you hear ‘domestic abuse’ and ‘musical,’ like who’s singing about violence?’” she said. “I think we really addressed it and made it a powerful message without being insensitive to the actual topic.”

The musical features a cast of more than 20 people set in an alternate reality. While watching a television show, the characters find themselves in the show itself and experience reversed gender roles. They incorporate the pop music to illustrate gender issues in a more familiar medium.

The character named Girlkon reflects the real-life artist Akon. “We took his character and feminized it and changed his songs so that it was a woman singing about a man, instead of a man singing about several women,” Polgar explained.

Proceeds from the musical will support the Susan Shirley Program, a Smiths Falls maternity house. The centre provides resources for vulnerable young women during and after their pregnancy.

Although the show’s issues are quite serious, the group promises a night of fun and entertainment.

Lead actress Ashana Sivalingham, a fourth-year criminology and music student, said she believes the pop music that will really resonate with the audience. “I think that familiarity with the role reversal will spark that,” she said. The group hopes students will then view violent and derogatory circumstances differently.

Emily Cordes, vice-president of operations, choreographer, and a fourth-year communication student, said she’s pleased with how the musical has come together.

“Everyone in the group is really open to the topic, and open with each other,” she said. “If we didn’t have this great team we wouldn’t have been able to do it. We’re lucky that way.”

Behind Those Eyes shows on March 14 at 7:30 p.m. and March 15 at 2:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., both at the Alumni Auditorium. Tickets are $10 in advance through Unity for Action’s email, and $12 at the door.



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