Classic play reflects modern issues

Written by: Mary Kate Conner

Georgia College’s Department of Theatre and Dance premiered its first mainstage production of the season, “A Streetcar Named Desire,” in Russell Auditorium.

The show garnered a trigger warning for featuring several incidences of sexual assault and abuse as well as portrayal of mental illness. Director Karen Berman believes the show, though it is set in the 1940s, speaks to these current issues.

“The violence against women that happens in 1947 in the play happens right now, today, at this college in 2016,” said Berman. “It’s extremely relevant and we want to be able to show, with characters, a mirror of what life is like here that might help protect people from going through this kind of thing later.”

In order to communicate the poignancy of the material regarding sexual assault, the theatre department hosted a talkback the day of the show’s premiere with members from the Georgia College Women’s Center to discuss the prevalence of sexual assault on campuses today. Berman said the goal of the talkback was to give audience members an idea of how the show engages with modern issues.

“We hope that students will rethink their relationships, especially with their significant others,” said Berman, “that they’ll think about what is love and what is lust, that they’ll think about what do they put up with in a relationship.”

In addition to the script itself, there were many physical aspects of the show that, according to Berman, were crucial to the show’s theme of the ghosts of violence. These included on-stage projections of old-fashioned photographs of characters and settings as well as footage of what was going on onstage from various angles. Other aspects included dancers and some live music that serenaded the physical portrayal of the main character’s mental illness.

Senior Kayleigh Mikell, a theatre major and assistant director, saw the effect the play itself, combined with the production value, had on audience members. “They created sort of an emotional response that they didn’t think that they’d come in with at all,” said Mikell. “A lot of people left thinking, and a lot left having learned something.”

The emotional response is something the directors said they were hoping to get from the audience, but something the producers and actors themselves said they made sure to distance themselves from in order to work with the content for so long and so in depth.

“I have to embrace the content and remember that we’re trying to send a message about this content,” said stage manager Maralyn Quinones, a junior and a theatre major. “That makes me emotionally detached from it. Pulling yourself away from all of that depression and sadness is something you have to mentally prepare yourself for. You have to know that this is just a production.”

Many of the actors said they agreed that emotional distance was important to playing their roles every night, but that the play itself left a lasting impact. “I have a lot of friends who have dealt with the subject matter so it’s become a point of honoring them and just learning as much as I can about it,” said Mary Helen Higgs, a junior who played a nurse and a dancer in the play.

Emily Davis, a senior who played a flower vendor and a dancer in the show, said that she wanted the audience to leave the play reflecting on how the realities of sexual assault and abuse that occur in the play might be pertinent in their personal lives. “Hopefully it gets people thinking about these kinds of themes as a serious part of everyday life,” said Davis. “Oftentimes people shun from talking about or thinking about [these themes] but they’re important to face so that you can be prepared to help someone who has gone through something like this.”

According to audience members, the show served its purpose in communicating the realities and effects of sexual assault and mental illness. “I think even for people who haven’t experienced [sexual assault and abuse], it helped you relate and want to make a difference in society in how everyone looks at those topics,” said sophomore Julia Melvin, an English major.

If you or someone you know is a victim of sexual assault or abuse or is dealing with mental health issues, please utilize the resources listed below that were originally included in the play’s program.

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(Feature image by: GC Theatre and Dance)

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