Being a young woman in college, my personal awareness of the imminent possibility of sexual assault was certainly heightened after witnessing the awe-inspiring intensity that is “The Rape Show.” The reality of it was nearly too much to bear as I quickly walked across the dimly lit campus of PCC to my car, clutching my key in my hand and hoping that any sinister figures lurking in the shadows would stay away. Though its purpose was not to scare its audience, the show did create a troubling sense of consciousness regarding the very real odds against you in a world where the issue of sexual assault is not only common, but often ignored or mishandled.
Combining multiple pieces of literature and other material, as well as featuring the works of individuals such as Amy Schumer, Anna Binkovitz and Sarah Silverman, the performance essay ‘The Rape Show’ directed by Josh Fleming addressed the multiple layers of sexual assault and rape culture in our society, and what must be done to end the ignorance and stigmatism that is often associated with them.
The performance began with the rhythmically heavy, sensual breathing of the performers as they lined the aisles on each side of the audience. As I sat in my seat in the front row, I felt myself dreading that fateful noise as the breathing climaxed in speed and intensity. Luckily, the rhythm broke at just the right moment, and the story began.
The first scene depicts what nearly every college student has experienced at least once in their life, first date preparations. A girl with her friends, puts on her makeup, bubbling about how cute her date is and a guy fixes his shirt collar in front of a mirror while his bros wish him luck. Then suddenly, the scene takes a sharp turn down the expected yet dreaded road to realism.
The girl begins to ask her friend a string of seemingly ridiculous favors– to text her every hour to see if she’s still alive, keeping track of her every location in case the police have to retrace her steps if she goes missing and memorizing a secret sequence of emojis that would indicate the need to call the authorities.
While the girl’s flurry of questions and requests made the audience laugh, the severity of the very real danger that girls are put in every time they leave their homes—especially to meet men—was addressed as evident. The actors went on to explain how men have been the number one threat to women since, well, ever.
The performance continued in a similar fashion, intertwining the daunting reality of sexual assault with dark humor as comic relief, while the performers willed their audience to step into a more conscious state of mind.
Though a large portion of the performance’s content is centered on the societal perpetuation of sexual violence against women, the very real occurrences of assault against people of all sexes, genders and age demographics are discussed as well.
The performers covered several gruesome topics that ranged from sexual assault statistics, to past rape cases on college campuses, and to the growing issue of assaults not categorized as rape that are swept under the rug of normality.
The troublingly wide array of consequences of sexual assault were depicted and examined, as well as the causes, which the performers explained to be deeply rooted in the way society has raised us to perceive ourselves and others.
The performers were able to capture the true essence of what it is like to live in a world where your chances of being sexually victimized are at an all-time high. They included not just the large issue of rape, but also the numerous subsets of actions that have the potential to lead up to it and the severity of their consequences for its victims.
The heartbreak felt by the audience was as tangible as the tears streaming down the faces of the performers with their last plea for awareness and action against the very thing that their nightmares are made of.
By the time the clock struck an hour after the doors closed, the audience and I had gone through an experience we will most likely never forget. The state of our society and the need for change within it became even more apparent to us than when we first walked in, and I for one left feeling impassioned to be a part of that change.