One Theater Group Tackles The Narrative Of Sexual Assault

Sep 23, 2016

Stephen Belber, left, Kimberly Parker Green, middle, and Brendan Griffin, right, preform Tape Wednesday Sept. 21, 2016 at the Charity Randall Theatre in Oakland.
Credit Sarah Schneider / 90.5 WESA

An audience of about 50 people watched uncomfortably as a man named Jon confessed he raped a girl in high school.

The confession was actually part of a scene in the play, “Tape,” a story about sexual assault, performed at the University of Pittsburgh on Wednesday.

The play follows the character Jon’s confession to his friend, Vince, that he raped a woman 10 years earlier. In the play, the two men both dated the woman, Amy, in high school.

The two characters had never spoken about that night until they get drunk and Vince repeatedly asks what happened. He was suspicious it was not a consensual act and eventually Jon said he went too far. Jon remained silent until Vince held up his phone, replaying the confession.

On the surface, the play appears to be about the sometimes ambiguous line between rape and consent. But the story is really about the people who are ignoring the victim – Amy. They try to decide what happened that night 10 years ago, when it’s actually Amy’s story to tell.

Eventually the two characters meet up with Amy and Jon apologizes for what happened that night. Amy, who has become a district attorney, asked what he thought happened.

“I think I raped you,” Jon said.

“No. You didn’t rape me,” Amy said.

“Amy, I know what happened,” Jon said.

“Apparently not,” Amy said.

Amy said he isn’t allowed to confess if she isn’t accusing him. The play’s artistic director, Bryan Doerries, said Amy is taking control of a situation she once couldn’t control.

“I think the subtext of it is, ‘It’s not you right to tell me what happened to me,’” he said.

This was the first time Doerries’ theater group, Outside the Wire, preformed at a university campus. He said the hope is to empower people to openly discuss the grey area and evoke empathy for victims.

“By asking that question, ‘Who gets to tell the story? Whose narrative is it?’ we create an opportunity for those who’ve either experienced sexual violence who feel comfortable coming forward, or those who’ve been bystanders who have either acted or not acted, who can also voice their discomfort of what they’ve experienced, and own their narratives without someone telling them the story or dictating the story to them,” he said.

The reading was followed by an hour-long discussion of the play’s themes. The audience was diverse in age, gender and race, but the reading was aimed at college students.

Bri Scholar, 20, is studying political science and theater at Pitt and said rape is a label people are scared of using.

“I think that there’s a lot of women out there that don’t come forward with their stories,” she said, “who don’t openly acknowledge that there are instances that make them uncomfortable because we are kind of expected to protect ourselves.”

The play ends with more ambiguity as to who owns the narrative. It was written in 1999, the same time one audience member said she was in college. She said conversations like that never happened, but said the play signified progress.

Doerries said he plans to take this performance to other universities.

Because until we’re talking out loud about it, until we’re acknowledging our discomfort, until we’re actually acknowledging how difficult it is to live up to the value of creating an environment where people are safe from sexual violence, and we’re really grappling with what it actually takes, I don’t think we’re going to achieve it," he said.