The Keene State College theatrical program, “No Zebras, No Excuses” took place last week during first year orientation, leaving audience members emotionally touched, despite some “disrespectful” reactions.
The four theatrical performances depicted situations of sexual abuse in a range of different situations, meant to provide nonviolent solutions to prevent them from happening. The Zebra is an animal that is often preyed upon by predators, warranting the projects message, “No Zebras, No Excuses.” It aims to encourage bystanders and witnesses of displays of abuse to speak up and act to prevent people from becoming victims.
Regarding the turnout of this year’s performances, Coordinator of Sexual Violence and Prevention at KSC, Forrest Seymour said there were 1300 audience members. Seymour oversees the program yearly.
“This is our eighth year and we consistently got positive feedback from our students and also from resident assistants and orientation leaders,” Seymour said.
When asked about the negative crowd reactions, Seymour said, “There were a few people in the audience who were a little rowdy and disrespectful and it’s interesting how even when you have a small amount of people, particularly in a theatre performance, it can make a significant difference in how things feel.
Seymour and other participants said the negativity was exclusive to one performance in particular in which the reception was unlike the usual reception they expected from past experience.
“We did have one performance on Saturday where it was not what we usually expect from our audiences,” Seymour said. “The O leaders and staff we had there did various things to calm them back down, but it was a little surprising. But on the other hand, there’s always a little of that, and in some ways that’s a good thing,” he said.
Seymour also described the performances as a “complicated intervention.”
“The purpose is to educate and motivate, to get people concerned,” Seymour said. “But another [objective] is to make people uncomfortable, because we don’t want people to be comfortable with the status quo- a society that’s very tolerant of sexual assault – not KSC in particular.”
Second year orientation leader Stephanie Ryder described the group she was overseeing as “very quiet” when reacting to the performance and did not hear any negative responses from her group.
Ryder also said orientation leaders kept the rest of the day’s activities “cool and casual” after No Zebras because it can be “very emotional.”
On the topic of negative reactions or “heckling,” Ryder said, “There are always the students in the crowd that laugh at certain things at times. For some people, that’s how they deal with stuff like that. I personally didn’t hear anything crazy, nothing major was brought up at least in our staff debriefs.”
Despite some inappropriate responses, Ryder said there were still many positive reactions that showed how impactful No Zebras can be.
“Some said it really opened their eyes up to things that can actually happen on campus, and to make sure that if they do decide to go out, they go with friends and not alone, making sure no one’s left alone or walking around by themselves. Being smarter about their choices,” Ryder said.
Theatre major and performer in No Zebras, Dominique Pascoal was not surprised by the response and said it motivated her on stage to give a passionate performance.
“Giggling and laughing is kind of a natural reaction sometimes,” Pascoal said. “But there were some kids who were really disrespectful and rude in the audience.”
Pascoal added that, “It made me mad, but it fueled me because that’s why we’re doing it. For people like that (hecklers). It gave me more reason to just let it all out.”
To Pascoal, some of the laughs were not out of the ordinary, as some parts of the scenes performed included small comedic sections intended to relax the audience.
“There were some scenes where there was something a little funny,” Pascoal said. “To make people comfortable, they look for the funny thing so they can laugh and be comfortable and then get uncomfortable seeing these things they didn’t think was going to happen (abuse, rape, hazing, discrimination, etc.).”
In reference to the majority of orientation groups who saw the performances, Pascoal said, “All of the other audiences for the most part were very respectful.”
Pascoal has had experience acting through her theatre classes and improvisation that mostly cover subject matter of comedic nature, making No Zebras a different experience out of her comfort zone.
“I’m a comedy gal,” Pascoal said. “So this was totally out of my character to do something like this. I’ve never worked on something this intense and important.”
The theatre performers involved endured a hefty workload prior to the show, coming back to KSC a week before orientation to rehearse 10 am to 10 pm every day. Theatre and Dance Professor at KSC, PeggyRae Johnson, was an instrumental part in preparing the performers, drilling them on diction, scene details and line delivery Pascoal said. Overall, Pascoal said the performance was a learning experience that helped the theatre majors involved get closer as a group, all while spreading an important message
In retrospect, Seymour said the uncomfortable reactions were in some ways a part of the programs purpose, as the discomfort could motivate students to be proactive against situations of assault in the future.
“It’s sort of an irony,” Seymour said. “We have the Federally Mandated Clery Report about sexual assault and we don’t like that there are sexual assaults, but we want those numbers to go out because we want more people to report sexual assault. There’s sort of that counter-intuitive quality of that data that we want more people to report sexual assault so those numbers will go up. In the same way, if we have people at a sexual violence prevention program who are made uncomfortable enough that they have to act out in some way, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. “
Nick Tocco can be contacted at email@example.com