While attending Cal State Long Beach for my undergrad, I joined an interactive theater troupe specializing in improvisational performance confronting social issues such as sexual assault prevention and anti-racism. At the risk of sounding like an arrogant ass, one could argue that I helped create this theater/peer-education troupe conveniently named, InterACT (yes, it’s spelled that way on purpose). It was in 2000, and I was a junior in college. I had recently transferred to Long Beach State from El Camino, and I met the man responsible for creating the troupe, Dr. Marc D. Rich. We had humble beginnings as we weren’t even a class yet. We were just dedicated students and a professor, who wanted to change the world–as cliché as that sounds. I think we did.
The point of InterACT was to be less of a traditional theater troupe and more of an interactive peer education troupe. Our work was inspired by Augusto Boal. Our performances were unique in that we treated our audience not as spectators, but spec-actors. This meant that after a performance, we would ask the audience if they approved of the resolution. When the answer was no, and inevitably it was–more on that in a minute–we would invite people from the audience to join the stage and try a different approach or go for a different ending.
An example of this requires that I give you a brief (brevity ain’t my strong point) explanation of how our performances played out. During my time, we had two major shows. One dealt with sexual assault prevention and the other dealt with racism. The sexual assault prevention performance was always interactive, whereas the racism one wasn’t so much (there were parts of it which were interactive, but nothing on the scale of our sexual assault prevention performance). We never reenacted any violence on stage, but it was always hinted that the protagonist was sexually assaulted by her boyfriend. There were two parts to the performance. One with three guys, all drunk; two of which are ragging on one because that one’s girlfriend is out late without him. This leads to a scary encounter when she arrives home with her friends. The lead antagonist, as he is called among us troupe members is angry and takes his anger out on his girlfriend, who later confides in her friends what he did to her in the second scene. Each scene ends with our story’s protagonist either being assaulted or retraumatized by her friends who berate her for not calling them when it happened.
To touch on my earlier point, whenever we asked the audience if they approved of the original ending to both scenes, the answer was always a resounding, “NO!” So we gave audience members brave enough chances to come onstage and change the ending. This meant stepping into the shoes of one of the characters. This meant coming up with strategies to prevent sexual assault.
Since my time with the troupe, InterACT has become nationally recognized. They have led workshops on sexual assault prevention in the military and in college campuses across the country. I’m proud to say I had a hand in that, however small.
This is resistance. I am reminded of what Jennifer Lopez said during the Grammys. She quoted Toni Morrison and stressed that now was the time for artists to speak out. She is right. Now IS the time for artists to speak out. Now is the time for writers to write and painters to paint. Now is the time for more conscious rap music and Rock and Roll. Now is the time for actors and athletes to speak out and keep speaking. Now is the time for dreamers to dream and lovers to love. The root and heart of this resistance must be love. It’s all for nothing otherwise.
Now InterACT is needed more than ever.
If you want to know more about InterACT, click the link which will take you to their webpage. Keep resisting my friends. As I said in my last (and hastily written) post, we’ve got a long four years ahead of us.