Creating Change through interACTion

STORY AND PHOTOS BY: AMY MARAMBA

In my first show for interACT, I played the role of the girlfriend who had been sexually assaulted. As I recited my last few words, “I just don’t know,” I immediately felt the mood of the classroom shift. The audience fell silent. And in that moment, I realized that I was there to serve a bigger purpose than my own.

I’ve been a part of interACT, the social justice, interactive performance troupe that tackles issues on sexual assault, LGBTQ rights, gender issues, stalking and being an active bystander, since the beginning of the Fall 2017 semester.

Created in 2000 by Dr. Marc Rich, interACT is a class in the Communications Studies department at CSULB – Communication Studies 495, Service Learning Internship – that was developed in response to a high incidence of sexual assaults on college campuses.

“We have come a long way since the first days of the troupe,” says Kelly “KJ” Janke, managing director of interACT. “When we started in 2000, we were just several students voluntarily meeting on Thursday nights. And now we are a class of 25 undergraduate students, four graduate assistants, an executive director, managing director, team leader, and a lead trainer. We also are requested to present at other colleges and at military bases many times a year.”

What It Entails

To enroll in interACT, all students must audition by taking part in an improv performance of the troupe’s best-known sexual assault show.

This show, which is set on the CSULB campus, starts with three male characters – the alpha male, the boyfriend and the nerd – who just got home from a night at the club. As the scene progresses, the alpha male convinces the boyfriend character that his girlfriend is being unthankful and possibly cheating on him.

When the girlfriend and her friend, the over-reactor character, come home, the boyfriend starts to show signs of abuse and rapes her. At that point, the scene is stopped and continues at work the following week, where the girlfriend character discloses her assault to the over-reactor and the nerd character. Unfortunately, they don’t do a very good job at consoling her, which is where the audience’s participation begins.

A key component of the show is interaction with the audience. We ask them to point out the red flags in the scene – signs of abuse, victim-blaming and antagonist characteristics, for example. Then we invite them to try out their own tactics for stopping the assault from happening and for being a good friend to a sexual assault survivor.

“We are trying to engage audience members to be active bystanders and allies,” Janke says. “Social justice is not a buffet – you can’t pick to be against racism, but not for LGBTQ rights, et cetera.”

Our mentors make it a point for us to not only understand the issues we’re tackling, but also how to effectively combat them, as well. We talk about a range of issues, from how we should eliminate gender roles, to whether being intoxicated and having sex is OK or not.

One of interACT’s mission statements is “solidarity means running the same risks – we like to challenge ourselves, as well as what we want to put our audience members through,” Janke says. 

Reaching Out

In today’s culture, with political figures, athletes and celebrities being accused of sexual violence, this work is so important. I consider interACT to be part of a culture shift on a small level of inclusivity and gender violence awareness.

“I think interACT is genuinely taking an approach that’s very effective towards the audience we’re trying to reach,” said Connor Wilson, who’s been part of interACT for two years. “Trying to convince someone not to be racist and/or calling them an asshole isn’t going to change their opinion. However, if you pose things in the right circumstances, I think you have the opportunity to change things.”

We perform the sexual assault show for all athletes, residence halls and Greek organizations at CSULB. In addition, we have performed at women’s shelters, high schools, housing projects, U.S. Army and Navy bases, and academic conferences.

“It’s always our goal to continue getting our work out there to other colleges around the country, to keep expanding our research with the work that we do, with the military and seeking to create work on mental health,” Janke says.

Organizations find us through research or word of mouth and then contact us, and we work with them to determine which show to perform. Although we perform the sexual assault show more than any other show, we also have scenes on stalking and diversity.

The Impact

Coming into interACT, I knew what it was but I never would have imagined it would change me the way it has. I believe this class goes far beyond discussions and performing. It teaches people empathy and understanding of all sides – the survivor, the bystander and the perpetrator.

“As a survivor, the show resonated with the experience I had, my friends around me and how my own friend reacted to my own situation,” says Joelle Byun, a student in her second semester with interACT.

Statistics show that every one in four women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime, and 99 percent of those sexual assaults are committed by men against women, children and other men. InterACT goes over statistics like these, sexual assault myths, and the legal definitions of related terms like rape and consent.

One of the most important lessons the class instills is how to be a good friend to victims when they disclose their assault. In addition, interACT defines what it is to be an effective leader and how we can implement that change. Therefore, we strive not only to be leaders in this kind of work, but also in life.

The biggest takeaway for me from the experience has been courage. The courage to trust my intuition. The courage to break out of my shell and not be so concerned about others’ opinions. And the courage to speak up for others and myself.

I’ve made some of my greatest, lifelong friends from interACT. And to be able to talk about all these issues freely and share the same values with them is very empowering.

My classmates agree. “The best part of interACT is being able to simultaneously experience and facilitate learning with my fellow troupe members,” says Rebecca Gonzales, who’s been in interACT for four semesters.

“InterACT is so much more than a graduate assistantship for me. It is a commitment to social change, and having the privilege to be a part of troupe has been nothing short of incredible.”

If you’d like to see our sexual assault show, we will be performing at Take Back the Night on April 18 at 7 p.m. in the Anatol Center.

We encourage anyone who feels even slightly passionate about this work to audition for the troupe. Auditions this semester are May 10 at either 7:15 or 8:45 p.m. in LAB 224.


 

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