Through the creative efforts of the performance troupe interACT, the Navy has found a unique way to deliver sexual assault prevention training that has a stronger impact on students, sailors and personnel.
The troupe kicked off its international Navy tour July 14-17, for Training Support Center Great Lakes (TSC), in Ross Theater to a resounding response from the students in the audience who were able to participate in the performance.
“The students were very receptive to the training. It was in-your-face, on-hands training where they were allowed to go on stage and interact with the performers,” said EMC (AW/SW) Latrina Lumpkin, Sexual Assault Prevention and Response command liaison for TSC. “The type of ongoing training we normally have for them throughout the year is lectured-based, whereas as this training had a greater impact on them.”
InterACT is a nationally renowned social justice performance troupe based out of California State University—Long Beach (CSULB).
The troupe fosters a “proactive” audience where during their performances, audience members literally join the actor-educators on stage and attempt to prevent sexual assault and comfort survivors of domestic abuse. InterACT presents complicated, realistic scenes about domestic violence and sexual assault and allow audience members a safe space to rehearse assertive communication strategies and inspire social and political change.
Marc Rich, professor of communication studies at CSULB, founded the troupe in 2000 as a more effective method to teach people how to intervene safely and effectively in sexual assault prevention. Their interactive method fosters feedback back and forth between the audience and the speakers.
“We call our method proactive because it’s the highest level of audience involvement. We have sailors and Marines on stage with us for about 80 percent of the presentation,” said Rich. “Instead of asking them what would they do in a situation to prevent a sexual assault or how would they speak to a survivor effectively, we actually bring them up on stage to do so. Instead of just telling us what they would do, we offer them the opportunity to show us how they can be more effective in prevention.”
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The performance, which was developed in collaboration with experts in sexual trauma and based on current research, helps audience recognize the warning signs of abusive relations, better understand how individuals feel after being raped, and learn how to effectively intervene in order to prevent assaults.
The troupe currently has 35 members consisting of recent graduates and active students, many of which have been with the group since 2000. Eight members participate in each performance to include six actor educators and two facilitators. On stage, the performers depict a scenario of friends who each have a different approach and reaction when one of them claims to have been sexually assaulted. Following their performance, the facilitators ask the audience suggestions of how they would have handled the same situation and then invite them onstage to actually demonstrate their replies.
“We like to ease the audience in for a moment and let them know it starts out as a conversation,” said Kelly Anderson, co-facilitator and interACT member since 2005. “We want to prepare them for the power they are going to have after being on stage. After a while it becomes contagious as the hands start flying up from the sailors wanting to participate, and we see when we challenge them a little bit more, they’re not scared or turned off by it.”
There is no violence or vulgar language used in the recreated performances which are improvised on the spot as the audience and performance co-create the show together, never knowing what’s going to happen.
“We’ve seen some of the most creative interventions working with Sailors that we’ve never seen before in 14 years of doing this work,” said Rich. “When that Sailor comes up on stage and has that intervention, it’s an intervention for everyone in the room. Now, 1,200 sailors who saw the show can put that intervention in their back pocket as well.”
“The actors were performing their dialogue as in real life just as the students do when they’re not around us,” said Lumpkin. “So we have to make sure that the scenes are depicted exactly how they interact when the student are out in town or not around personnel.”
Rich explains the troupe makes it comfortable for members of the audience to come up on stage as they put them in a position to be successful and to be rewarded for their participation.
“The more people that come up, the more they see that we’re never going to embarrass anyone and never make anyone look bad as we really want them to look good and to feel positive about what they’re doing,” said Rich.
The troupe recently finished a three-month contract period with the Navy’s southwest region which consisted of shows throughout San Diego. They are now embarking on their international tour with locations to include Italy, Japan, Guam, Guantanamo Bay among others. Having gained local recognition for their work, interACT has been invited to perform at numerous venues throughout the United States aside from the military.
“We know we’re being effective because of our research. We’ve been able to measure well over 1,000 audience members to see what’s happened during the performances,” said Rich. “Men that came in to view the performance and then post tested months later felt more confident in their ability to intervene in a safe way as a by-stander to prevent sexual assault. The impact stays with the audience.”
“What’s really interesting is the Sailors get such positive feedback following the show from their peers from the participation,” adds Kelly. “Their conversation consists of comments such as, ‘Wow, did you see what you did up there?’ Or, ‘Oh, I would have done it another way,’ and they start to think about it more. Six months later people are still considering those options and interventions and the conversation keeps brewing.”
True to form, the students were already praising the hourlong performance following its conclusion.
“This was a lot better than what was expected. The verbiage used throughout the presentation was something that we could relate to — the talk that we use in regular day life,” said ETSN Joshua Morgan. “It was easier to envision ourselves being in that type of situation instead of merely being lectured to about it.”
“I wasn’t expecting it to be anything as entertaining as this and it will stay with me as we all have friends who behave in the same manner as the actors did,” said ETSN Deashajne McDaniel.
For more information about interACT, visit their website at www.csulb.edu/colleges/cla/departments/communicationstudies/interact/
140716-N-CM124-001 NAVAL STATION GREAT LAKES, Ill. (July 16, 2014) Kelly Anderson, co-facilitator with interACT, an acting troupe from California State University, Long Beach that promotes sexual assault awareness prevention, leads a group of junior Sailors from Training Support Center, Great Lakes, during an interactive performance on July 16 at Ross Theatre. The troupe kicked off its international Navy tour with a four-day performance that invites audience members on stage to demonstrate how they would effectively deal with a victim of sexual abuse. (Photo by Matt Mogle, TSC Public Affairs)