This season was incredible and even more life-changing than I could have imagined. The seed was planted in the spring about the possibility of hiring a second cast to help tackle the fall touring schedule. Director Dave and I did some research, saw some auditions, and were able to hire two full-time casts for this fall. 9 actors descended upon Portland in early August, ready to try something new and take on a difficult, but rewarding, performance experience. We had two weeks of intensive rehearsals, including a sexual assault training with the wonderful crew at SARSSM, a surprise lobster dinner donated by one of our supporters, a ropes course adventure at the beautiful Camp Ketcha, and a dress rehearsal with a great local audience at the Lyric Music Theater in South Portland. This performance marked the first show in four years where I haven’t been onstage, and it certainly is a different view from the audience.
And then the casts split up to hit the road on Saturday the 24th (we had adopted nicknames from the Camp Ketcha ropes course, and my cast was excitedly called the Honey Badgers due to a wonderfully-timed t-shirt from Luke) and it was time for the chicks to leave the nest. The Honey Badgers piled into a minivan and drove to Cornell University in Ithaca, NY to sit down with 3,800 first years over two days.
We were excitedly received by familiar faces (from our trip to Cornell in January for their spring orientation) and familiar sandwiches from Ithaca Bakery. This trip we were able to perform in the infamous Bailey Auditorium, known for being the largest collegiate lecture hall in the country. I was able to make some jokes about my father (Cornell class of 1964) and all four shows were well-received.We even had our first groupies when two students in the early performance loved it so much that they came back for the later show!
Tuesday and Wednesday were days off in Boston, where the Honey Badgers were able to check out a hip hop yoga class, sleep in a bit, and talk about something other than sex. Thursday the 29th , we met up with Cast Bubble Butts (again, from the Camp Ketcha day) at Harvard for four performances with 1600 first years. We performed two simultaneous, back-to-back shows next to each other, and it was really neat to hear the laughter and applause from the other auditorium. This was also a chance for some of the actors to invite friends and family to see the performance, and we ended up with a nice little Bowdoin crowd, including former Speak About It actors and writers dating back to the show’s inception in 2009. After spending two weeks virtually on top of each other, this was the last time for a while that all ten of us would be together on tour. We ended the night some celebratory drinks, lots of love, and too much laughter before parting ways on Friday morning. The Bubble Butts hopped in the van and headed south to Haverford College in Haverford, PA while the Honey Badgers traveled east to visit Trinity College in Hartford, CT.
We arrived in Hartford in time to meet with their RA’s and lead a facilitation over dinner. They had great questions about the performance and the subsequent facilitation, as this was our first visit to Trinity. After the facilitation, Nick hopped in the van and drove to Upstate New York, where Saturday morning he competed in a collegiate Olympic-distance triathalon with the Boston University triathalon team (remember that Nick is in medical school at BU? He’s also a star on their tri team), claiming a top-10 finish and helping his team land in second place. He made it back to Trinity well before the first afternoon performance and we all took the stage for two high-energy shows for Trinity’s 600 first years. The RA’s were great and were able to have meaningful conversations after the shows, and we’ve heard that Speak About It was among the first years favorite part of orientation!
After Saturday’s performances, we hopped back into the Speak About It-mobile and drove to Williams College in Williamstown, MA. This marked our third year participating in Williams’ First Days programming for first years, and we were so excited to meet with their Junior Advisors (RA’s) who saw Speak About It as first year students three years ago. We met with the JA’s Sunday morning and were able to refresh their memories about the performance while also getting some great feedback about their reaction to the show three years ago and how that has influenced their college experience. This was hugely exciting for me, as the producer, to revisit Williams and have these conversations with people who have experienced college through a Speak About It lens. The two performances with almost 600 students were great and Williams is consistently one of our favorite schools to visit. I’m so excited to see how their campus culture is different now that the majority of their students, including a number of their on-campus student leaders and athletic captains, have been part of a conversation about consent education and sexual assault prevention.
From Williams, we left Monday morning (Labor Day) for Providence, RI to have a lunch facilitation with RA’s and Orientation Leaders from Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). They were an interested and engaged audience, and excited for us to bring a dialogue about sexual assault prevention to their first years (we would return to RISD for an orientation performance on September 8th). We left RISD, checked into the hotel for power naps, and made our way up College Hill for an evening performance at Brown University in front of their 1500 first years. We walked into Pizzitola Gymnasium, unsure of what to expect, but excited for our biggest crowd to date. Two large screens flanking the stage welcomed us, and this is where the show would be projected via live-feed. It was like the Academy Awards! The sound, light, and visual team was outstanding, and despite the heat and humidity catching up with us by the end of the show, it was an amazing performance experience. It was pretty incredible to see 1500 students listening and reacting to what we were saying: laughing and applauding when things were entertaining, and listening intently when the conversation was more difficult. We always love to mingle with students after performances, get a brief feel for how everything was received, and we were met with enthusiasm and gratitude from the students.
Tuesday morning, we were back in the van and headed home – Boston or Connecticut for some people and Portland, ME for me. In ten short days (really six days if we don’t count travel) we were able to spark a dialogue about consent and sexual assault prevention with over 7,000 college first years at five different schools. The campus cultures on each of these campuses are very different, ranging from 1800 to 14,000 undergraduates. Even on smaller campuses, it’s difficult to create or label something as being a unified campus culture. There will always be subgroups or niches, athletic culture sometimes in conflict with academia, and a range of different experiences for every student. But very soon, every student at Williams College, every student at Colby College and Haverford College will have seen Speak About It as first years during their orientation. Everyone on campus will have been part of a conversation about communication, consent, respect, sexual assault prevention, supporting survivors, and being empowered active bystanders. Will this change the world? Probably not. Will it change the individual campus cultures to create a safer environment for sex, sexuality, communication, and alcohol? Maybe. Will this performance change someone’s life by finding language to an experience they had but couldn’t articulate, by empowering someone to step in if they see someone dancing too close, by giving students permission to ask for something if want you want it, and no if you don’t? Absolutely. And with the 7,000+ students that Cast Honey Badgers talked with in the past month, I think it’s safe to say that we’ve changed at least one person’s life.
Stay tuned for more information about the Cast Bubble Butts tour, as well as a recap from our show at RISD on September 8th and the upcoming shows at Hamilton College on September 16th and MassArt on September 18th. Interested in coming to preview a show, or want to know more information about bringing Speak About It to your campus? Email us here! Also be sure to follow the action on Facebook and Twitter.