Program uses improvisational comedy to convey serious message
August 20, 2010
- Program uses comedy to deliver serious message about sexual harassment and assault
GRAFENWOEHR, Germany -- It's extreme, it's funny, it's a lecture and yet it feels like a night at the comedy club.
Imagine two people on a date. As the date progresses the two people converse and think they know what the other person is thinking. The flirty eyes and come hither looks. She thinks he's cute and seems like a possible life match. He's not serious, he just wants to have 'fun' and it appears she feels the same way.
These are the first signs of a critical miscommunication and this is where Kyle Terry and Amber Kelly, actors in the Sex Signals presentation, stopped acting and began drawing the audience in with questions about the scene.
They employed the audience to create characters for the scene by asking them what kind of date they were on, what types of personalities the characters had, what the man and woman were wearing and how they might react in a given situation.
When their characters were constructed, they told the audience to look under the seats and pick up the provided "stop" placards. Terry instructed the audience to listen and pay close attention to the situation and lift the placards any time they thought the scene was getting out of control. The two then took the information and dramatized the hypothetical dating scenario using military jargon and acronyms the characters would use as Soldiers, a nice little surprise for the unsuspecting audience that resulted in oohs, awws and guffaws.
The audience didn't get to rest on its laurels though. Just when they thought they were going to get out the door without getting too serious, Terry and Kelly surprised them with a question and answer session, which explored how the characters reacted, why they reacted that way and what should or could have been done.
In one scene, Terry portrayed a Soldier who had been accused of raping a fellow female Soldier, while Kelly played the part of a talk show host interviewing him. The talk show was called, "It wasn't my fault."
The tension in the room spiked as laughter subsided and the audience began shifting in their seats. But the two actors pressed on. Step-by-step through the Soldier's date, they examined what happened and how it could have been different and each time he said, "It wasn't my fault."
By this time the audience was truly getting into the scenes and loud comments and boos erupted from the group. It appeared they thought he was just making excuses for his behavior, blaming everything on the girl.
"How do you explain why you didn't put up the stop placard," Kelly suddenly asked the audience referring to earlier skits. "I saw only a few come up during the skits, but no one yelled for us to stop. No one was really intent on preventing an assault."
This question really got to the heart of the sexual harassment and assault issue. Saying their behavior in the theater reflects their behavior in the actual situations, Kelly and Terry showed Soldiers that when they find themselves in similar situations, they have to act. She said if they sit quietly by, as they did in the theater, with little protest when they see something wrong, people can and will get hurt.
Sex Signals has been presented more than 400 times at installations around the world including Germany, Korea, Qatar, Kuwait and Iraq as part of the Army's I. A.M. Strong campaign against sexual assault and harassment that was launched in 2008.
The interactive play is one of Catharsis Productions repertoire of educational programs created to engage college students and military personnel in tough conversations about the topics of sexual assault, sexual harassment and oppression. Catharsis Productions was co-created by Christian Murphey and Gail Stern.
"If we can help just one person understand what is happening and they prevent an assault from occurring then I feel I've done my job," Kelly said.
"This show was better than a power point presentation," said Staff Sgt. Christopher Fox, 57th Signal Company. "It was interactive and a fun way to learn about a tough topic."
Following the presentation, the actors issued one single challenge: the extreme consent challenge. For the next 24-hours, the audience members were asked to request consent for anything they wanted from anyone, even something as simple as asking for a drink of someone's soda. But just requesting consent isn't the entire challenge. The audience must wait to do the requested action until they get expressed verbal consent from the person they asked. No grunting or nodding of the head allowed. An actual answer of yes or no must be acquired.
Are you up to the extreme consent challenge'
For more information on sexual harassment and assault prevention or to get help, call your sexual assault response coordinator.