A different approach to a difficult subject

Actors with Theater Delta play our a scene. (Photo by Laura Hayes)

Actors with Theater Delta play out a scene. (Photo by Laura Hayes)

Sexual assault can be a difficult subject to broach.

But a North Carolina-based theater troupe made it easier last week.

An audience of about 40 members, mostly Furman students, watched a scene dubbed “How ‘bout this party?” in which four Theater Delta student actors portrayed a typical college party scene with friends, alcohol, and peer pressure. Ultimately, the scene ended with sexual assault leaving the two bystanders, the victim, and the offender uncertain and concerned.

Theater Delta, based in Chapel Hill, uses interactive theater – scripted and improvisational audience participatory theater – to promote social change and tackle tough issues. The group has performed at more than a dozen universities.

After the performance, the actors remained in character and the audience was encouraged to ask questions about their behavior, how they felt and how they planned to deal with the incident.

The actors answered in character, giving the audience a rare look into the real emotions and confusion that can be caused by such incidents.  For example, one audience member asked Becca, one of the bystanders, why she left Caitlyn, the victim, alone at the party. Another audience member asked Will, the offender, why the assault continued after Caitlyn expressed uncertainty. In both cases, each character answered with unease, stating that it seemed like a good idea in the moment.

The audience peppered the actors with similar questions until the floor was opened for a general discussion of what happened in the scene.  With each concern raised by an audience member, director Ben Saypol went into further detail of how Furman students can be different from the characters in the scene.

During the discussion, he highlighted four main points for the audience to take away, the most important being the role of the bystander. Saypol also continuously stressed the importance of “let[ting] people operate at their own pace” especially in giving consent. He also noted the role of alcohol in this and many real life instances.

“Human beings make choices while drunk that they wouldn’t normally make otherwise,” Saypol explained and added that “over 90 percent of date rapes involve alcohol.” Finally, he introduced a point that seemed to resonate with the audience:  as a society we tend to look to the victim and notice all they could have done to prevent the situation instead of looking to the offender for the same purpose.

The Theater Delta group gave Furman students a lasting impression of the profound impact of rape and sexual harassment as a whole. “It wasn’t what I expected. It wasn’t just like a boring lecture about sexual harassment. I thought it was a great way to get their point across,” says Kathryn Clark ’16.