Rules of Play: Theatre for Radical Change
April 20, 2021 | Devon Whitney
Photos by Devon Whitney
Rules of Play: College Edition started brewing over a year ago, before Kate Franklin ever could have anticipated that she would be producing this performance piece during a global pandemic. Through a whirlwind of problem-solving, fifth-year theatre major Franklin has written, directed, and brought to life a filmed theatre piece seeking to enact change in frat and hookup culture, and on-campus sexual assault. Franklin describes the play as “a step-by-step guide of a typical night out on a college campus— from picking a bodysuit to blowjobs,” that sheds light on the “culture of abuse and inherent power differentials.” As a survivor, Franklin’s work seeks not only to cultivate discussions about the existing campus culture, but also to understand what a better future might look like.
Rules of Play pushes the boundaries of activist performance and the existing canon of plays about sexual violence. Franklin says, “these narratives usually have one antagonist, allowing everyone else to be absolved of their complacency.” Told through the lens of a game, the play focuses more on the rules than the players, thus critiquing the systemic issues rather than individual choices. Furthermore, RoP was created in the style of Brechtian theatre. Rather than expecting the audience to step into the protagonist’s shoes, Brechtian theatre keeps the audience at a distance, always reminding the audience that they are watching a play, often by exposing the mechanics of the play. RoP does this by having a “Stagehand” character, showing the crew on camera, and addressing the audience directly at times. This relative distance keeps the audience from abandoning their critical thinking and self-awareness. Though there is an assault in the play, Franklin’s team choreographed it as a dance, removing the element of an audience’s interpretation of ‘who was telling the truth.’
Photos by Devon Whitney
RoP partnered with Delta Tau Delta and Alpha Kappa Sigma, two fraternities that were invited to participate in a closed post-show conversation that discusses campus sexual violence and a healthier hookup culture. RoP also partnered with the restorative justice advocacy group Re-Humanize and the Every Voice Coalition, a grassroots on-campus organization against sexual assault. There were several post-performance discussions available, providing space to process the production and its message. "Survivor Circle," led by Marlee Liss of Re-Humanize, was intended for survivors only, as a healing space to discuss the play, rape culture, and personal experiences. Every Voice Coalition led the talk, "Political Advocacy to End Campus Sexual Assault," which was open to all audience members. There was also a talkback with the cast, which Franklin led.
The content warning on the play’s website reads: “CW: Mentions of sexual assault, r*pe, sexual coercion, disordered eating, drinking (heavy), swearing. Please note there is no simulation of any sexual or physical violence. There is no actual contact between any of the characters.” Franklin also notes that timestamps will be posted of “any content that could be disempowering to view,” giving audience members the agency to skip ahead.
“The takeaway of the play is that there is not one person to blame for rape culture. We all contribute to the problem in some way or another, be it acutely or astronomically,” says Franklin. This play presents the opportunity to confront rape culture, even within ourselves, and to be in community and conversation with others as we begin.