Imagine this: a boy and a girl meet at a party. They laugh, they dance, they drink a little too much, and then they go upstairs. When presented with facts, the story seems unequivocal. Yet when the performers from Urban Improv finished enacting this scene for Belmont Hill students, opinions were vastly different, and the spirited discourse that followed was exactly what the actors were hoping for.
Urban Improv is a theatre troupe that has toured around the Northeast for over twenty years in the hopes of teaching thousands of students how to prevent social crises, resolve uncomfortable situations, and make tough decisions. Actors in the program create controversial and improvisational scenes to mimic real-life scenarios.
While they are equipped to touch upon a panoply of issues such as bullying, racism, and peer pressure, the group focused on the increasingly-significant issue of rape for their two performances this October. Naturally, after the St. Paul’s scandal hit close to home, Belmont Hill has taken necessary steps to bring awareness to campus rape. Students have confronted this contentious subject many times this fall already – the Peer Leaders arranged a Form VI New Freedoms program with girls from Newton Country Day School and Brian Cullen, J.D., spoke in Chapel about many laws instituted against sexual assault.
The issue of rape is extremely provocative and delicate, and consequently, some students disagreed with how Urban Improv constructed a few of their scenes. The central point of one episode, in which a boy takes a girl “upstairs,” was misinterpreted by many in the audience because of the age difference between the two characters. After the skit, I heard from one classmate, “Okay, so I just won’t have sex with a girl who’s underage.” The boy’s mistake wasn’t just having relations with a minor. Regardless of age, it is wrong to coerce a judgment-impaired individual into having sex, and perhaps if the two players were the same age, that message could have resonated more clearly.
Throughout all of the scenes, there was a common theme – in any meaningful and healthy relationship between a boy and a girl, platonic or romantic, there needs to be open communication and mutual respect. If the boy actor had shown respect for the girl actor and talked with her about having sex when she was sober, none of the following events would have played out so horrifically. We, however, can learn from this actor’s mistakes – that’s why the Urban Improv performers had us voice our opinions about the situations, think actively about the most significant aspects of sexual assault, and determine how they would and should react in a similar situation. For their strong performance, the actors received a standing ovation.
We are living in a society in which one of every five women in college claims to be victims of sexual assault; thus, it is imperative that Belmont Hill educate its students on how to treat women with the utmost respect and how to avoid these situations. Virtually every boy now on Belmont Hill’s campus will be on a college campus within six years and will have to face issues of drinking and sex. In addition to the Senior’s New Freedoms program and Mr. Cullen’s Chapel speech, Urban Improv significantly furthered the discussion about rape and caused students to think more closely about their responsibilities as young men.