InteractiveTheatre.org - Using drama to educate others on sexual assault

Hints to Starting a New Interactive Theatre Troupe

This piece is totally subjective - based upon my experiences in three different troupes around the country, two of which I was a founding member. In other words, I'm trying to be helpful - but you know your own situations.

Environment:
An existing base of operations is helpful: a crisis/education center, a political group, etc. Larger, stable organizations (where the actors can focus on their issues and not other problems in the organization out of necessity), such as those financially stable lend to a more stable group. Even student-run groups often have a link to a counseling center, or department.

If nothing else, having a stable organization to work with can provide the group with consistency in rehearsals and scheduling (and that's a lot).

Actors and Directors:
There's a difference between actors and those who can act. I can act, but I'm not an actor - in other words, I have no delusions going professional. Fortunately, these programs work not by the scenes, but by the question and answer sessions, where character work is what counts.

Scenes set-up the Q&A; so it's still important that the people involved have some sort of theatre background - enough so it doesn't become acting lessons. They may not have acted at all, but have done backstage work. And that should be fine.

Unless you're going to employ professional actors (and there are some groups that do that), don't expect a whole lot of professionals (or in the case of schools, Drama Majors) - this is a time-intensive activity, and when they get a paying show (or equivalent in a school) it's even more-so.

Like the actors, the directors do not necessarily need to be died-in-the wool directors (it's nice, though). People who have had experience either acting and/or in interactive theatre. In college settings, you may be able to find Grad students in Drama Departments who may be willing to volunteer.

I recommend two directors, especially if the directors are inexperienced. It allows one to "punt" if s/he hits the equivalent of writers block, or they may simply start complimenting each other (if the group is cohesive, I think this starts naturally - at least it has in my experiences).

Facilitator:
The role of the facilitator is three-fold: The first is to prompt the audience and make sure certain issues are covered (a physical list is very helpful - it doesn't necessarily need to be at the performances). The second is to keep the discussion focused, on-topic, and emotionally centered - basically the difference between National Public Radio's "Talk of the Nation" and "The Rikki Lake Show." The third and most important is to protect the actors: in-character the characters will get grilled (and they should expect it), but it is the facilitator's job to make sure it doesn't get personal or abusive.

An ineffective facilitator is an ineffective program. Don't just pick someone at the last minute. Have her/them participate in the training and rehearsal process. Give the facilitator an investment in the program and a personal reason to protect the actors.

Training:
Working in interactive theatre is much different than your standard lecture - you're dealing with emotions and politics wrapped up in one. Therefor, what your troupe may need is something more than those who handle the crisis-lines or the politics of rape. The obvious resource is I Never Called It Rape by Robin Warshaw. Your actors need to be able to put themselves in the place of the perpetrator, the survivor, the friends, the authorities, etc. - because they're going to have to deal with them, even if that doesn't come up literally on the stage. Check out some of the resources on this site for some good stories/articles (not yet implemented - please be patient as I have to manually type them in).

As always, remember that you're dealing with entire systems - what character work is about creating an alternate, individual identity for the actor to portray, they are created by societal systems: racism, sexism, homophobia, etc.

Scene Formation and Rehearsals:
I've found that the best way to create a scene is to use a Structured Improvisation. Lay the groundwork of what you want to have in the scene. An example of a very basic, but also very effective scene (because the scenario is common):

A couple come into an apartment after drinking. Man is sweet and establishes himself to audience as a nice and normal (if somewhat intoxicated) guy. Couple is intimate, it progresses beyond the woman's boundaries, and man pushes forward to a sexual assault.

And from that the actors can fill in the details. The improvisation can create a realistic framework after one rehearsal of work. I've found that tape-recording the improvisations and creating a make-shift script is very effective is allowing the actors to build upon the previous rehearsal work without repeating it. The script isn't be memorized, but to emphasize "key points" that makes the scene work.

Don't expect actors to be able to get into each other's personal space right off the bat (especially when you're not using professional actors) - especially if they don't know each other.

Here in the Twin Cities we tried using Twister as a means of us getting used to each other's personal space. And it has worked very well. Other techniques that have worked (on me, specifically) is forgetting the acting for the moment, and just getting used to being "in the position."

Attitudes Within the Group:
If you can't laugh, you will go nuts. Just because we're dealing with a serious subject, it doesn't mean we always have to be just as serious. Acting by itself is a stressful position - doing this is moreso.

Keep your goals in mind, and most of all, take care of yourself. This applies to everyone else in your group too, when actors feel they have to show up rather than want to, something is wrong; it may not be the group, but just general stress. Nobody is a mind-reader - we don't know what baggage is being brought with an individual.

Most of all, have fun. This requires a great amount of time and energy, but the rewards are immense.


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