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Rochester high school drama program tackles sexual assault case

by Courtney Deeren - Lifestyles Editor
Tue, Nov 12th 2019 06:20 pm
The Harley School put on a production of `Good Kids,` a play loosely based on the Stubenviille, Ohio rape case.
The Harley School put on a production of "Good Kids," a play loosely based on the Stubenviille, Ohio rape case.

The Harley Upper School Rochester Drama Program opened Wednesday, Nov. 6, with its fall production of “Good Kids,” a play which explored themes of rape culture, slut shaming and toxic masculinity. Written by Naomi Iizuka, “Good Kids” loosely follows the events that occured throughout the Stuebenville, Ohio, rape case. 

The Harley School decided to put on the production black box style, a strategic decision according to Director Maria Scipione. 

“So that whole idea of doing kind of documentary theater and raising social issues and doing that in a black box, which for me always feels right, because it’s the issues that people want to get farthest away from, so I’m going to put it right [in your face],” Scipione said. 

As audience members entered the theater, they were greeted by students handing out programs. The students directed everyone’s attention to the back of the program where there was the statement “rape is…” Theatergoers were encouraged to write in the lines provided to finish the statement. Above the statement was a trigger warning and information regarding the talk-back that was to occur after the performance. 

Along with the actor bios and the cast list, the program included “30 alarming statistics that show the reality of sexual violence in America,” which was written by Alanna Vagianos and published in Huffington Post using statistics from RAINN.org. 

These facts included statistics such as “17.7 million the estimated number of women who have been the victims of rape since 1998” and “99 the percentage of perpetrators of sexual violence that will walk free.”

While these statistics are somewhat jarring juxtaposed with the whimsical bios of high school-aged students, it sheds light on one important and possibly overlooked fact: this specific case the audience was about to see unfold took place in a high school. This is something important to remember when considering why a high school chose such heavy material to use for its annual play.

“It should be done in every high school because this is exactly the issues that high school students are dealing with,” Scipione said. 

After the audience was seated and the scene was set, Scipione came to the stage to welcome everyone. Scipione informed the audience of the talk back as well as warning viewers the show contained strong language. 

“It may be offensive to you but please see it in the context of the production,” Scipione said. 

Scipione also directed the audience on where to go if at any time they felt uncomfortable or needed a break. There was a classroom set up with people who would be able to talk to anyone who felt triggered. 

The play began and soon everyone learned exactly where each cast member fell in conjunction with the real events. Throughout the entirety of the show, the cast tackled slut shaming women who enjoy sex, toxic masculinity as seen through the football team’s actions and victim blaming a girl who was raped after a party where one of the members of said football team laced her drink. 

In another strategic decision, Scipione did not graphically portray the actual rape. Instead the light shone on the actor playing Chloe, who lay passed out on the floor of one of the boys’ basements. In the back of the stage the boys turned their backs to the girl and recited lines of dialogue from the original footage of the rape. 

Utilizing a large phone screen on the stage to exemplify social media usage and the spread of this footage, Scipione and the cast demonstrated how this video — which is important to note was shared without the girl’s knowledge or consent — went viral and attracted a lot of controversy.

The narrator Diedre, who was played by Bella Dandrea, spoke about the way in which social media has propelled our knowledge of victims.

“And in the olden days that would have been that,” Dandrea said. “It would all just fade away.” 

But that’s not how it happened in the production and that’s not how it happened in 2012. 

With such tough material Scipione said there was some pushback from the community, but with the support of her school psychologist and the head of the upper school, she was able to do the play justice with her small cast. 

“And that’s the kind of — the word I want to use — reluctance of adults or administrators to allow it to happen in a high school is kind of tantamount to thinking denial keeps your kids safe,” Scipione said. 

As a survivor of sexual assault herself, Scipione wanted to avoid romanticizing the subject. 

“One of the things that I really wanted was to put this story in context,” Scipione said. “The thing that stops women from reporting or doing anything about it or healing successfully is feeling like they’re not believed, that there’s shame and that there was something that they did that caused it. And the thing about this play that felt very important to me was that it made it pretty clear that it didn’t matter.”

Scipione went on to talk about the structure in which rape occurs. 

“It has happened for so long that there’s a system that keeps this in place. So in some ways, the story depersonalizes it from Chloe,” Scipione said. “It’s not that it wasn’t Chloe’s experience. And she doesn’t have to personally deal with it. But it happened to Chloe because we live in a system that promotes toxic masculinity, under develops girls and the term rape culture is used. This is a long term structure, political hierarchical structure patriarchy, and rape is a tool that keeps women down.”

Scipione talked about the experience on behalf of the students as well, saying that while they had discussions early on intellectually it wasn’t until much later they had the emotional discussions. When time came for things to get serious and the cast had bonded with each other, they were comfortable enough to emulate their characters. 

The production was put on by the drama program which counts as a credit. Scipione said following the collegiate model allowed the students to go into this class as a practicum and did research on their characters — the class even watched the documentary “Roll Red Roll” to learn more about the case and each character. 

While the 2 p.m. showing on Saturday, Nov. 9, closed out the fall program, the Harley Upper School Drama Program will return in the spring.  

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