Arts

“SLUT: The Play” Confronts Topics Of Sexual Assault, Slut-Shaming and Rape Culture

After a day of dance practice, Joey Del Marco, the main character of “SLUT: The Play,” rushes home to prepare for a party. Before heading out, she and her childhood friends, Luke, George and Tim, drink a bottle of vodka. The four of them then squeeze into a taxi.

It is during the cab ride that Joey is sexually assaulted.

“SLUT” was performed at Andover this past Sunday, thanks to an Abbott Grant received by Nico Ciccia ’16, Payton Jancsy ’16 and Olivia Brokaw ’18. Written and produced by The Arts Effect, a New York City-based acting group, “SLUT” features a cast of all high-school girls and was based on real-life experiences. According to its website, “SLUT” aims to “address the intense impact of rape culture, gang mentality and the over-sexualization of girls and women on individuals and communities.”

Lexa Krebs, the actress who played Joey, said, “I think [‘SLUT’] is really relatable for a lot of people. I think it opens up the eyes of adults. It opens up the eyes of boys seeing what goes on with these girls, and what they go through on an everyday basis and how they relate to it. And it presents the realities of the girls, so I think it relates to everyone. It’s important for everyone to see, not just girls, because everyone is a factor in what plays out in real life.”

As the play progresses, Joey’s story slowly unfolds, and her friends and acquaintances offer their own opinions on the situation. While some of Joey’s friends support her, many are reluctant to believe her story. Throughout the show, Joey is shamed, discredited and insulted by friends, family and strangers as a result of her experience and her sexuality. The variety of responses demonstrate the challenges that many survivors of sexual assault face in real life.

“The characters are based off of real people, so they’re not all carbon copies of each other. They’re not preachy­—they’re just really real and honest. There are times where they don’t know themselves, how to handle the situations they’re in. So I think people really connect with the play, because they can see themselves, they can see their daughters and their sisters and their friends in these characters,” said Amari Leigh, who played Dominique, a classmate of Joey’s who fears being called a “slut” for buying condoms.

The varying perspectives on Joey’s assault echo the way in which society views sexuality and how quickly people lose empathy for the victim. In the play, Joey is frequently discredited on the basis of her past sexual experiences and her actions on the night of the assault.

“I think that there’s this big stigma, especially among older people, that if a girl is being very provocative or sexual, it’s a bad thing, and I feel like in the growing process, it’s a really healthy thing actually, for girls and guys to explore their sexualities,” said Willa Cuthrell, the actress who portrayed Leila, a freshman girl who was in a relationship with one of Joey’s assailants, in “SLUT.”

Although “SLUT” describes the social stigma around sexuality, the play also provides an alternate, positive view on sex. In the opening scene, Joey and other girls go to the locker room after a dance practice for the “Slut Squad,” a self-given title to their dance group. In this moment, the girls use the word “slut” with confidence.

Sydney Olney ’17, an audience member, said, “I really like the way that the play started, because the last thing I expected was to see other high schoolers drop down and hump the floor. I thought it was definitely a way to engage the audience right away, because frankly, there was no way to ignore that.”

The play also closes on a hopeful moment, despite the doubts that arise around Joey’s assault: Joey speaks with another survivor of sexual assault. The two of them state that they believe each other’s stories, even though no one else seems to, and hug as the lights fade away to darkness.

Katie Cappiello, the writer and co-director of “SLUT,” said, “I hope [the audience] walks away with… a greater sense of empathy, a greater sense of understanding of what it means to be that person, what it means to be that person who has been violated and shamed… I just really want to get people talking, and I just want to open a healthier dialogue than exists right now, because I don’t think a healthy dialogue [what] exists right now.”

“SLUT” has succeeded in starting conversation through performances across the country. The play has also been turned into a book and has even been translated into several languages.

“The public reaction has been mind-blowingly amazing… Just saying it out loud, I can’t believe it to this day. I guess we just didn’t know it would turn out this way, and we’re so happy that it did and so happy to bring it anywhere we can,” said Cappiello.

According to Lisa Joel, a member of the Brace Center for Gender Studies Advisory Board, the process of bringing the play to Andover started last spring when Joel, Tracy Ainsworth, former Co-Director of the Brace Center, and Allen Grimm,

Instructor in Theatre, accompanied a group of students to a production of “SLUT” at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The group was impressed by the play and felt that it would be beneficial to bring the production to Andover in order to inspire further campus discussion about sexual assault.

Joel said, “The first thing I hope [the audience] takes away is that we all need to check ourselves in terms of our attitudes and behaviors and understand how the things we do and the ways that we think behind closed doors or with friends can be incredibly damaging, and they can set tones that are dangerous for a community.”

Krebs said, “I think the most important thing is to show the play to younger kids and expose them to this reality, because they’re all going to go through [this culture], they are going through it, and I think that the main thing is to just get these conversations started and begin this whole process at an earlier age.”

Jan 15, 2016