OSWEGO — An April 30 SUNY Oswego production of “Not Someone Like Me” followed by a panel presentation will bring forward the stories of survivors of sexual violence to try to make a positive change.
The free performance, a series of staged monologues, will begin at 7 p.m. in Sheldon Hall ballroom.
Mya Brown, assistant professor of theatre and the show’s director, said the strength of the survivors is inspiring and brings focus to an ongoing and pervasive problem in society.
“Theatre should be about more than entertaining people,” Brown said. “It should inspire people and move them to action.”
The script by playwright Susan Rice — who will be in attendance at the April 30 performance — features the words of five real women brought to life in staged readings by actresses: Florence (played by Beverly Poznoski), Pam (Shana Weiss), Tracey (Rebecca Ziegler), Nancy (Ahmanee Simmons) and Sharisse (Brown).
Brown first took part in this production when she was pursuing her master’s degree in theatre at West Virginia University, and thinks the piece — based on real events as told by rape victims — can provide empathy and education while enthralling an audience.
“And it can get people to take action in their own homes and in their own communities,” Brown said.
“I’ve been excited to partner with Lisa Evaneski, the college’s Title IX coordinator. She’s been such a great help,” Brown said.
The event also works with the It’s On Oz organization, the campus chapter of It’s On Us, which encourages people to take a stand against sexual violence.
“In researching this project, I came to realize a common theme: Speaking out turns victims into survivors, if not heroes,” Rice has said in describing the genesis of the play. “That is something I hope to share with those who hear these stories — to inspire audiences to tell their own stories. To put an end to the silence and the shame.”
This kind of performance has the ability to “comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable,” said Ziegler, a junior double major in creative writing and theatre. “If you haven’t been through this, it should disturb you and move you to action. This also comforts people who have been through it. It shows them they’re not alone.”
Ziegler describes her character Tracey as an innately “fun and bubbly” small-town girl who gets raped at 15 but is “incredibly resilient and strong,” she said. “She doesn’t want to live in it. She refuses to let it define her.”
Tracey’s reaction, Ziegler thinks, is “a matter of control. When a rape is happening, you don’t have control of yourself or your body any more.” Tracey’s determination is an example, she said, of “maintaining control over your life, your choices and your destiny.”
Sophomore theatre major Ahmanee Simmons said Nancy is a determined woman not letting her rape stop her from what she wants to do.
“A lot of people would assume you’d be a lot more walled off from the world, but she takes that stereotype and twists it,” Simmons said. “She’s moved through it. It’s a very positive read. I really like the character of Nancy.”
Shana Weiss, a sophomore adolescence education major and theatre minor, notes that because Pam was raped in the 1960s, she had to deal with the restrictions of the time period.
“She was raped in college, becomes pregnant and has an abortion, which was at the time illegal,” Weiss explained.
It is a difficult and dangerous decision in that context, Weiss said, noting that a current climate with debates about abortion and a women’s right to choose resurfacing has given new meaning to this aspect of the production.
Theatre faculty member Toby Malone has played a key behind-the-scenes role as coordinating dramaturg, amassing resources and research available to cast, crew and audiences.
Natalie Hoskins of the communication studies faculty serves as dramaturg, lending her research knowledge to the project. More information and background appears at the Dramaturgy Hub, https://sites.google.com/oswego.edu/nslmhub/home.
Student crew members include Ryan Benson-Smith, stage manager, projections and sound designer; Evan Ribaudo, assistant stage manager; Nova Grayson-Casillo, projections/sound operator; and Alex Forrest, lighting operator.
Vocal Effect, the college’s show choir, will give a brief performance before the play.
A post-play panel discussion will feature playwright Rice and special guest Sharisse Tracey, one of the real-life women whose words inspired Rice and who is depicted in “Not Someone Like Me.”
Another of the women, Nancy Raines, will attend the event as well.
Artswego provided funding to support the discussion.
The play and post-performance discussion represent an opportunity for education and understanding, particularly about consent, Brown said.
“That’s where our real power comes from, as a community, is educating our young people,” she explained. “Everybody must be educated on what exactly a ‘yes’ is, what exactly a ‘no’ is. … And if you don’t have absolute 100 percent confirmation, then that’s a ‘no.’”
Due to subject matter, the play is recommended for mature audiences, and counselors and advocates will be on hand.
Admission is free, but tickets are required through any campus box office or http://tickets.oswego.edu.