Ralph Fiennes – Trigger Warnings Response

Guest Blog: Response to Ralph Fiennes - Trigger warnings in theatres

This thought-provoking article has been written for PTSD UK by one of our supporters, Alex C, and addresses Ralph Fiennes’ recent remarks on trigger warnings in Theatre. Alex sheds light on the vital role trigger warnings play for people dealing with conditions like PTSD and C-PTSD, emphasising the need for inclusivity and choice in the Theatre community. Alex’s insightful perspective underscores the importance of accommodating diverse needs and ensuring a safe, welcoming environment for all. We extend our heartfelt thanks to Alex for this advocacy and support to raising awareness on this important topic.

“I’m resisting the urge to make loads of Harry Potter themed jokes and also considering whether it’s wise to take on the Dark Lord himself…especially as he is one of my favourite actors. However, like many, I feel that Ralph Fiennes’ recent opinion in his BBC interview with Laura Kuenssberg that trigger warnings should no longer be used in Theatre performances needs to be responded to.

In the interview, Fiennes suggests that the purpose of Theatre is to shock audiences: that feeling uncomfortable is part of being challenged by a play and that giving prior warning of the specifics of the plays content will prohibit this.

However, it’s important to remember that trigger warnings are not actually for audience members who risk feeling shocked by the plays content; trigger warnings are for audience members with invisible disability like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, who want a choice to avoid reliving trauma as these symptoms impact their daily lives and functioning.

Suggesting that audiences can’t handle feeling uncomfortable demonstrates a total lack of understanding of what a trigger warning actually is and completely reinforces the ‘too sensitive’ trope.

I love to be challenged by Theatre, it’s part of the unique art form of a play that it provokes you with it’s themes instantaneously and that as an audience you respond as a community. Theatre can unsettle and confront us in ways that other forms of more passive storytelling can’t. However, all audience members need to be given a choice about the content they are about to witness so that they can either prepare properly, or give it a miss; especially if certain content is likely to give them flashbacks, panic attacks or other PTSD or C-PTSD symptoms.

Whilst tucking into a programme, I have definitely heard other audience members say that they don’t like reading trigger warnings as it spoils the suspense and their enjoyment of the show. However, it’s important to remember that if an accessibility tool is not designed for you, when you make your voice front and centre to the debate of whether or not it should be used, you are unhelpfully desensitising others to it’s proper intention, which is to keep people safe. Just like strobe lighting responses, PTSD and C-PTSD does also affect people physically through symptoms like shaking, nausea, vomiting and physical anxiety.

It’s important too to notice the difference between declaring what the plays’ content is, and censoring Theatre. No one is suggesting that we shouldn’t make theatre which has distressing, provocative or demanding themes; just that people are given an opportunity to decide whether they want to experience them.

When trigger warnings are used, their benefits can be extended to all audience members, whether they are living with Mental Health needs or not, there is a universal need for choice. I don’t know anyone who would want to watch Romeo and Juliet the day after a break up, regardless of whether the suicidal themes trigger a past trauma response or not.

Trigger warnings promote inclusivity within the Theatre community and we need them in order to continue to make Theatre which is accessible for everyone. It’s important to remember that not all disability is visible. If you are privileged enough to not be someone who has to plan what content they consume in order to preserve their health, then get out of the conversation, and make room for the voices of the people who do to be heard.

Expelliarmus, Ralph!”

Written for PTSD UK by Alex C.

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