Battle for Hope raises awareness for sexual abuse, harassment and violence

Alyssa MacKinnon

The University of New Haven’s Theater for Community Impact class created Battle for Hope, a student-made production, to raise awareness about sexual assault, relationship abuse and harassment on campus.

The play, which took about a month to put together, was presented on Thursday, Dec. 4 at 8 p.m. in Bucknall Theater and was free of charge for all students.

Powerful imagery on the play bill—the director Tyler Prigionieri with his mouth taped shut and half of his face hidden in shadow—conveyed that the show would be authentic and emotional.

“What better way to change our campus than to provide entertainment and put our theater skills to the test,” said Erika Vargas, the lighting director and one of the writers of the play. A small warning took its place on the cover for those who may be triggered by the topic of the students work. Teal, purple and navy ribbons could signify what a survivor had experienced—domestic abuse, sexual assault, and general harassment respectively.

“Domestic Violence, harassment and sexual assault are the topics we chose to focus on. We believe that there are topics that exist in the dark underbelly of schools; many people are either ignorant about them or try to ignore their existence, which results in an inappropriate use of negative words or jokes around our campus,” read a part of the pamphlet. “This negativity can lead to people becoming passive bystanders if they choose to ignore the words that are being said and the message behind those words.”

The play was divided into six acts. The stage was painted in a splash of light blue color, an artistic choice meant to represent seeking inner peace after a traumatic event.

“In the Dark” began in the dark as derogatory words began coming from above the audience. LaTanza Britts was the primary writer for this scene. She used words from A Streetcar named Desire and things she personally heard around campus. One that stood out so vividly because of its vulgarity was “my d*ck and your lips should meet.”

The second act was called “Shakespeare and Pizza,” in which lines from Othello (courtesy of Allison Ramsdell) were used between two men, one an abuser and one the bystander. The bystander calls 911 after witnessing the abuser harm his partner but disguises the call for help as a simple pizza order.

Often, when people think of bystanders, they think of large acts of courage but it is possible to make a difference without risking your safety.

“Spectrum of Emotions” was the third act. This riveting act had actors standing in spotlights slowly being circled closer and closer by figures in inhuman red masks who were shouting; the emotions ranged from anxiety to guilt, anger, fear, and lastly, hope.

The fourth act, “The Monster in Me,” used lines from the show “Degrassi” to tell the story of a sexual assault victim trying to move ahead with her life, but demonstrates her struggle to continue, especially with intimate behaviors. Keith Watford played the new boyfriend of the victim, Lily, and the authenticity of his hurt at her inner turmoil was tangible. The act was partially created by Liz Vega, who played the angelic figure of hope.

The play continues moving into the fifth act, “Textual Harassment.” Actors stood alone in spotlights on either side of the stage as harassing, provocative and demeaning texts appeared on the screen behind them while a well-chosen song by Eminem took its place as the underscore. The soundtrack of the show was spot on at every turn, truly enhancing the key emotions of the audience.

The last act, “Red Paint Warrior,” by Keira Terrell and Leann Boisvert, had a few students standing in a stream of light again, now being marked by red handprints, as actors in featureless masks once again trap the portrayed victims in a swirl of emotions. Hope walks in, however, and the scene changes to one of white light, and the play concludes.

After the performance, Brittany Bach, president of the Victimology club, and Victoria Carnera, a 2013 alum, spoke to students after the show about different options and places available for students on campus and off.

With the statistic that one-fourth of women and one-sixth of men experience sexual assault or harassment, it is important for students to be educated about the available resources and to be sensitive to possible triggers; for instance, avoid using the word “rape” jokingly.

The two advocates for victims spoke about the Milford Rape Crisis Center, which has a free confidential 24/7 crisis hotline [(203) 878- 1212], and the Violence Prevention and Intervention Center, which is located on the lower level of Sheffield Hall, around the corner from Health Services.

The VPIC provides free and confidential support groups for women, but men are also welcome to contact VPIC. If someone chooses to come forward about an attack, it is important to communicate that you believe the person, that they are not alone and that you are there for them.

UNH can be made a better, safer place for all our students if we each look out for one another and hold ourselves responsible as bystanders to prevent the events that create victims. Together, the UNH community can help every victim become a survivor.