Weber State theater spotlights sexual violence in new play

Friday , April 06, 2018 - 5:15 AM

OGDEN — An original work will conclude this year’s theater season at the Weber State University Telitha E. Lindquist College of Arts & Humanities.

Performers will premiere the “Class of ’94,” a play commissioned by WSU’s Hurst Artist in Residence Program that tells the story of a Catholic schoolgirl who is sexually assaulted.

Held in the Val A. Browning Center Eccles Theater starting Friday, performances will take place at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and next week Tuesday through Saturday, also with a matinee at 2 p.m. next Saturday, April 14.

The play focuses on the experience of the survivor as well as the community’s response to her assault, including efforts to push for restorative justice, allowing her perpetrator to reconcile his actions.

“Sexual violence is an issue that often we don’t talk about,” said Stephanie McClure, director of the WSU Women’s Center. “April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Events like this provide us with an opportunity to learn something.”

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The performance fits into this year’s WSU campus theme of civility. 

McClure said she appreciates that the world-renowned playwright, Diana Grisanti, worked with many WSU students to create a collective experience in writing the play. “That is not something you see every day and that’s pretty cool,” McClure said.

The play provides a chance for audience members to reflect on what survivors of violence experience, McClure said.

“It’s an opportunity to look at one survivor and the impact it has on her life,” she said.

Jennifer A. Kokai, play director and collaborator with Grisanti in creating the script, said when the university commissioned the play, none of the #MeToo movement had occurred. The movement has brought to light the experiences of many women who were sexually assaulted by well-known people.

“When the play went into revisions, it seemed obligatory to include the contemporary discussions,” Kokai said. “It’s a difficult topic. It is very insightful.”

Partnering with the Women’s Center created an opportunity for bystander training, Kokai said.

“College-age women are the most vulnerable to experience sexual assault,” Kokai said.

Some of the training has included teaching members of the community that if people have a friend who says something they find “weird or wrong,” it is their duty to say they are not OK with it.

Representatives of the university’s Women’s Center will be available at all performances to provide resources to attendees, said a WSU news release. A special “talk back” is scheduled after the performance on opening night and will feature staff from the Women’s Center.

Kokai said the play is not propaganda.

“You could take away a lot from the play,” she said. “Even though it is about a serious subject, it is funny, moving and ultimately hopeful.”

While bad experiences can happen in life, there are ways to develop healthy relationships and communities, Kokai said.

“The show examines how the victim — surrounded by parents, teachers and friends — works to reconcile the issues and pain,” said the WSU news release.

Tickets are $13 for adults and $11 for children, students, seniors and members of the military. They may be purchased at weberstatetickets.com or by calling 801-626-8500. 

You may reach reporter JaNae Francis at jfrancis@standard.net or 801-625-4228. Follow her on Twitter at @JaNaeFrancisSE or on Facebook at Facebook.com/SEJaNaeFrancis.

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