As you’re hopefully picking up by now through our barrage of social media posts and local events, we’re in the throes of a monthlong fundraising campaign to raise awareness and action for sexual assault prevention. Last week, we saw two awesome local events in Portland: a night of fundraising and bowling on Monday at Bayside Bowl, and a live performance on Friday at the Portland Public Library in front of a great audience of community-members. So, why all the fundraising?
Speak About It has grown exponentially since our inception in 2010. Our first season of touring in 2011-2012 saw us performing at a handful of colleges, mostly in the New England area, and reaching everyone via minivan. As we prepare to close the books on the 2013-2014 season, we have performed at dozens of high schools and colleges across the country, traveling by planes, trains, and automobiles, and sparking conversations with over 20,000 audience-members this season alone. We’ve changed the face of the organization and officially became a 501c3 nonprofit in 2013, and have plans to hire a third full-time cast for this fall’s tour. This means the organization needs to grow as the popularity of the performance spreads. Your donation will allow us to hire other staff members to help with outreach, marketing, and scheduling. It will help us cover the travel costs for the actors to allow us to perform more shows locally, and geared towards the community. Your donation allows us to visit schools who want to share our messages of consent education and sexual assault prevention, but who don’t have the budgets to bring us. The hardest part about this job is talking to an administrator or a teacher who wants to bring the performance, but can’t squeeze it in the budget. A donation helps us cover overhead for the office, and scheduling board meetings to help grow and support the organization.
So why is all of this important? Executive Director Shana shares a story about her Friday night, and the possible impact of the performance outside the college bubble.
This summer marks the fifth year that I’ve been working, in some form, with and for Speak About It. The summer of 2009, I held my first copy of the script, and haven’t looked back since. This means that I’ve had a lot of conversations about consent, sexual assault, bystander intervention, the intersection between alcohol and sex, and the best ways to consensually pick people up at bars. So when we all went out for drinks after Friday’s performance in Portland, it was no surprise that we would inevitably talk about sex.
It’s not uncommon to see people making out at bars, especially warm, divey little bars, and in dark corners. If you know me, you know exactly what bar we were at, but for the sake of this post, it’s not terribly important. So no one was shocked when we saw the two strangers talking, then flirting, then she was sitting on his lap smooching. But then her body language changed. They were standing up and her chest was facing away from him, arms crossed, probably not really listening to what he was saying. Then they sat down, facing each other from different picnic tables. Her legs were crossed away from him, he was intently staring at her. Mind you, it’s not like the six of us (four current or former Speak About It actors and two super fans) were staring them down and intently taking notes. Someone bought us some tequila in the middle of all this, and our nights were not totally wrapped up in what was happening. Turns out, this girl was a friend of a friend’s girlfriend (yeah, read that one more time), so I asked the girlfriend what the deal was, asked if everything was ok. She wasn’t sure, but said she would check in with her friend after we left if she didn’t want to leave with us.
Our night was wrapping up, tired after a long week of events and a great performance, and we decided to head out. On our way, we were set to walk past this girl, who was still talking with her new friend.
“Hey, we’re gonna grab some pizza, you wanna come with us?”
Now we’re all outside the bar, and I’m actually feeling a little like a jerk because, in all honesty, we had no intention of getting pizza, but that was the first thing I could think of. The first thing she could think of? “Thank you! I don’t go out very often, and wasn’t really sure how to get out of that situation. He was nice and all, but I wasn’t really feeling it.” We all chatted for a bit, I explained a little bit about Speak About It and the work that we do, and then apologized for tempting her with pizza when they was no pizza to be had. She wasn’t that stressed, and we started to make plans to head home. She said she lived off the peninsula (a short drive, definitely not a walk) and would likely head home instead of out to another bar. One of our crew lived off the peninsula, and offered to drive (she was sober, don’t worry).
And it sounds like they had an awesome conversation. Our friend had a chance to talk about what Speak About It means to her (the driver wasn’t one of the actors), and chat with this girl about what it means to be an active bystander. Maybe it’s because I’ve been doing this work for years, maybe it’s because I’m a horrible extrovert and feel comfortable talking to people, or maybe it’s because I was with a group of people that I know also believe in what we’re doing, but it really wasn’t that hard to approach this stranger with an offer to get her out of this situation.
Was I a cockblock? Maybe. But if she didn’t want to leave with us and we had totally misread the situation, then she would have stayed with her new friend and we would have left by ourselves. If being a cockblock means making an empty pizza offer and having someone take you up on it, then that’s the best nickname I’ve ever had. Call me wildly optimistic, but I think a lot of people would have the same instinct and reaction if they knew what they were looking for, and how to talk about it. I’m not a body language expert, but I’ve seen enough drunken make outs to tell when someone’s not into it. Speak About It is a chance to give people that confidence and language to check in with a friend, or a stranger, or a friend’s girlfriend’s friend, to see if everything’s ok. If it is, then no harm done and you can walk away knowing that you silenced that little bit of doubt and unease in your gut. If you feel guilty for interrupting a make out or a dance session or seemingly-awkward conversation, you can buy them a beer or a slice of pizza. All is forgotten in the bottom of a pint glass.
We probably didn’t change her life, but we certainly helped her decide to change the course of her evening, and I think that’s the best kind of Friday night.
You can speak about it, too, by making a donation to help support the organization. And by being an active bystander at bars and parties.