Theater group addresses difficult subjects

by Elise McGlothian

Interactive Theatre Carolina addresses topics affecting student wellness, such as depression, suicide and sexual assault. ITC interacts with its audience to create a safe space for everyone.

This story contains sensitive material and may not be suitable for younger children. Elise McGlothian reports.

Maya Osterman is a graduate of the University of Colorado. She works with Interactive Theatre Carolina, a theatre company in the UNC Wellness department. The company uses student actors as well as professional ones to raise awareness on critical issues that impact the well being of students, such as body image and eating disorders or sexual assault.

The portion of the monologue you are about to hear can be slightly disturbing.

“I did not want to have sex with him. I tried to get out from under him, but he had all his weight on me and then he kept saying, ‘Shhh, it’s okay, it’s okay.’

“I just froze. I was hoping it wasn’t real. But then of course, it was and then it was over.”

This piece has even been hard for the actress herself to perform. Because the theatre group relies on audience participation, the scene ends with a question and answer portion. This lets audience members ask the characters, and not the actors themselves, what they were thinking during the scene. Sometimes, it’s not easy for actors to separate themselves from the characters they play.

“Last time I was doing a piece that was also centered around sexual assault so it was a very triggering experience.” Osterman said. “I spent a lot of that question and answer portion crying because there was so much victims blaming, that I ended up crying and got really emotional.”

But before the question and answer portion comes, actors pause on stage to allow the audience to discuss what’s happening.

Osterman says the theatre company relies on audience interaction to address taboo topics.

“The really great thing about Interactive Theatre Carolina and how they’ve modified that scene that you see the whole way through, there’s breaks with facilitation.” Osterman said.

The theatre company allows students to practice what they would say in certain situations, and perhaps, change the outcome. ITC program manager Sara Donnell, says the theatre company focuses mainly on the bystander element of the scene.

“We try to talk to students about ways that they can be aware of the warning signs of their environment and ways we can watch out as a community to help prevent potential sexual assaults.” Donnell said. “It’s not just about the people on stage, it’s really about the people in the audience.”

And for those actors on stage, like Osterman, having audience participation is a key component of the experience.

“I think it’s really powerful, I think that when you are an undergrad at a university, it is the ultimate time for you to explore your identity and who you want to be in the world.” Osterman said.

Osterman says that having a space for audiences to be a part of the conversation helps to build a stronger community.

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