COLUMN: The importance of trigger warnings in art


Killeen Reidy, Columnist

On Friday, Oct. 8, a large group of my friends and I attended a showing of “A Bright New Boise,” a play put on by Eastern’s Theatre Department. Buzzing with pride and anticipation to see our friends and peers perform, we sat and perused the program. We all noticed a lack of a synopsis but quickly forgot about it as the lights went low and the usual announcement about cell phones was made. The importance of the lack of synopsis would soon present itself.  

In order to meet the standards I have for other works, I will now warn that in the rest of the article there will be mentions of possible triggering topics, including but not limited to panic attacks, attempted suicide, sexual assault, etc. Please take care of yourself. 

I have suffered from panic attacks since middle school, with a wide variety of presentations. So, when the character of Alex proceeded to have two panic attacks on stage, I was not prepared and understandably shocked. The first, fortunately for me, was not too like my own but the second hit remarkably close to home, almost triggering one of my own. I was not the only one of the group to be affected by that aspect of the play, and that was not where the triggering content stopped. At the end of the show, the audience is told that Alex attempted suicide. Many of us had dealt with depression and suicidal thoughts, so again we felt emotionally unprepared and hurt. The show also dealt with heavy topics related to religion and mentions of sexual assault.  

Despite some of the emotional harm I experienced, the show was phenomenal, and I commend the actors for being able to deal with and beautifully perform the heavy subject matter. My issue lies with the lack of trigger warnings.  

I strongly believe that art should be used to bring light to taboo and uncomfortable topics, but I also believe in doing that with the safety of everybody involved in mind. I have been made aware there was intimacy coaching for the actors, which is especially important in any production. However, the concern for mental and physical wellbeing during a show cannot stop at the actors. A huge part of the theatre is the audience, who are often the least prepared to deal with the heavy topics that are sometimes covered. Therefore, I believe trigger warnings should be and should have been in the program, and/or announced beforehand.  

My friends and I were extremely lucky to have been with each other as a support group, but I worry some were not as lucky. This show was also required viewing for students in certain theatre classes, and the lack of warnings seemed callous and unprofessional. 

I understand that one cannot always account for everything, but I would have been less disappointed and upset if there was at least an attempt made, especially with the mention of an attempted suicide by overdose present in the show. Again, I believe that theatre should be used to help us sit with uncomfortable topics, but it shouldn’t be done at the expense of the audiences’ well being. 

Killeen Reidy is a junior English major. They can be reached at [email protected] or at 581-2812.