Reflections by Charlotte Meehan, professor and playwright-in-residence
Over the past three years many people have contributed to this play; some even before I knew I’d be writing it.
Professor Kersti Yllo, a sociologist conducting research on violence against women, asked me to write a play addressing sexual assault in college life as part of a grant she and others planned to submit to the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women. Professor Gabriela Torres, an anthropologist also researching violence against women (particularly in war), soon became part of the team, which also included former Dean of Students Lee Burdette Williams, Associate Dean Vereene Parnell (SSSR), and Associate Development Director Molly Deschenes. The goal: obtain the competitive $300,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice.
When Wheaton won the grant, the dream of a commissioned play on this subject became a reality. Professor Stephanie Burlington Daniels agreed to direct it, and my work began.
In fall 2012, I interviewed students for a course I created, “Devising Theatre for Social Change,” in which I planned to develop scenarios around sex, sexual misunderstanding, and sexual violence with students improvising the dialogue on their feet. Nine students enrolled in the course for spring 2013 and we spent the whole semester making up possible before-and-after situations involving sex in a variety of contexts. Adara Meyers, who graduate from Wheaton in 2008 with a degree in English, transcribed the videos taken of students enacting these scenarios, which amounted to 300 pages of text.
From there, I began to develop what would become the play. Even with my additions and edits to the original dialogue, 85 to 90 percent of this play is made up of Wheaton students’ words, which was important to me in that sexual dialogue has some intergenerational overlap, but has its own vernacular accompanying each generation and its mores.
Another layer of collaboration became integral to when we decided early on to incorporate multimedia elements into the play. Professor Patrick Johnson, Wheaton’s filmmaker in the Art Department, agreed to work with us on developing this material through supervising his student Carolyn Hauk ’15, who has personally shot and edited much of the footage and who has coordinated fellow filmmaking students shooting, using found footage, and editing the rest.
Set designer Sara Ossana and costume designer Paula Ries come to us from previous professional collaborations with Professor Burlington Daniels and myself. There are many others I cannot mention here, including students who agreed to tell their stories on video, but suffice it to say this has been a community-wide effort.
In closing, I want to acknowledge that this play is emotionally harrowing at times and that it might bring up some unexpected feelings, even if you’ve not had direct experience with sexual assault. We very much hope audiences stay for Act II — the post-performance conversation that we consider as much a part of the play as the event that happens on stage every night. We also encourage you to reach out to the SMART office and to the Counseling Center should you find that the play has a strong impact on you that would be helpful to process in a professional setting. Our intent here is to bring about dialogue, understanding, and healing and we want everyone who sees the play to feel supported in this endeavor.
Lastly, when you watch the play, you will see that most of the actors are portraying a range of characters and that the story, as it were, does not follow a traditional linear path. Rather, the play wants to show us ourselves, onstage, in a variety of situations, patterns, and personae jumping from one point to another without creating a unified dramatic arc. Thank you for being here to share this experience. You are the reason we have created it.
Charlotte Meehan Playwright-in-Residence Professor of English