This Friday in the Attic Theater of the Ruth Taylor Theatre Building at 8 p.m., a group of burgeoning actors will be putting on a production dealing with a very tough topic: domestic violence. Through a series of episodes, created scenes and monologues, the production will tell the true stories of domestic violence and the victims and oppressors within it. It goes without saying that such a subject is hard to capture, let alone be presented in a way to foster teaching and awareness. Nevertheless, a group of students led by Roberto Prestigiacomo, associate professor of human communication and theatre, have been hard at work to achieving such a feat through a unique, forum-style.
I sat down with the cast to ask them about their project and what it’s like to be in such a heavy production.
Austin Davidson: To start off, what made you choose to do this project?
Sarah Bastos (Sophomore): I had done this kind of work before with some of my fellow cast members and wanted to continue that. I’ve also taken classes about Theatre for Social Change and wanted to perform some of the stuff I learned about in those classes. I’m also really passionate about Theatre for Social Change and I feel like it’s a very important thing for me to do. As a theater student, I’ve also been interested in how theater can affect other people and this was the prime example of how I could see that happen.
Lauren Hill (First-year): I did it because it’s completely different from anything I’ve ever done before. Also, I was excited because I knew it would be really challenging, but also rewarding and a really good learning experience.
AD: Interesting, so what does Theatre for Social Change mean to you guys? Do you all feel really passionately about it, or maybe it means something else?
Linda Ready (Junior): Well I didn’t really know what I was getting into when I auditioned for the show, but as I’ve rehearsed and worked with the cast I’ve become more passionate about it. I’ve also been doing research on what domestic violence is and how it affects people. I also think it’s incredible to be recreating these moments because I think that’s what theater is — recreating life and trying to provoke change in other people —and I think this is the most in-your-face you can get about it.
AD: Well said. So, what is the process of being in this production like? Is it emotionally draining?
(At this point the cast collectively, and in surprising unison, responded “YES” with a wary awareness of how much the show had affected them.)
Ready: The first few weeks of this were the most emotionally draining because we had to collect all of these stories and reports on domestic violence from cast members and family members, and it was really difficult initially. But by taking the initiative and being more of a journalist when it came to learning about the content, rather being the empathetic actress, [it] helped us all understand the material better and is a unique part of this show I have never done before.
Sophia Elsadig (First-year): Yeah I definitely agree, the first few weeks were very, very emotionally draining. I remember at one point I came home from rehearsal one night and wondered if I could keep doing the show. But as I continued to work and understand the material, I became more passionate about the work and also able to remove myself from the character I was playing and learn from the experiences I was creating. My character is an oppressor, and I have to say and do things I completely disagree with and it’s hard to do, but it’s important to do it well to recreate the experience and hopefully push people to intervene and learn from it.
AD: Is that what you all hope this production does? That it creates a message of awareness and learning that people can take to the world?
Cristina Treviño (Sophomore): Yeah, definitely. I think that doing this kind of work is very difficult because you don’t want to be invested too much, and you want to be able to do it from an outside perspective, so that way you have the ability to perform it. In the difficulty of doing this work, the goal is that we have hope that we can make a change, because if there is no change then there is no point in doing this. I think we have all developed that mindset — hope for a better outcome.
Matilda le Tacon (First-year): I think a large part of what we are trying to do is talk about this difficult topic but with degrees of subtlety. We tried to put little messages and symbols into the play as a way of not making it too heavy handed, but to also still send a message about the topic. We also picked domestic violence because it’s not as widely publicized as other topics of its nature. By creating a production like this, it allows us to send the message in a way that is easier to convey.
AD: While I think it has been addressed what is the main purpose of the production? What do you guys want people to take away from it specifically?
Holly Gabelmann (Junior): I think there are a lot of purposes to this show. One of them is to provide audiences with a rehearsal space to practice intervening. So they will see what is happening on stage and have the ability to jump in and intervene on stage. You will see an instance of abuse and have the ability to stop it. And I think this opportunity to create a sort of dress rehearsal for real life gives people a unique opportunity to learn.
Bastos: The main goal is to get people to talk, to be aware, to make a change.
AD: Do you hope this type of project continues, that the message you send creates a better campus environment? And are there any future themes already in mind?
Gabelmann: Well, it’s more of what the community feels the topic should be. So if this project was replicated at Trinity, it might be about hazing or mental health, while in another community it could be about an entirely different thing. So while it is cast-driven, I feel in a larger sense it’s community-driven.
Each of the cast members had great responses, and each struck the same notes in the conversations I was lucky enough to share with them. They emphasized that the production fostered a bond with the cast that they have really enjoyed and value, that they have learned so much from one another and that the material they are dealing with is important and prevalent. It really was a great time speaking to all of the cast, hearing the interesting and thoughtful things they had to say about the process and seeing how much they all do care about their craft and each other.
I stayed behind after the interview to watch them rehearse and it was moving. If you have time in the busy schedule of college, take some time to see these people bring to light something we should all be more aware of and capture the dark reality that is domestic violence.