Thursday, April 14, 2016

#SPEAK UP: Sharing = Enlightenment

Contributed by Shaun FauntleroyThere’s great power in the sharing of personal stories. People seldom respond well to being preached to unless they’re members of the choir, and let’s face it, “preachy” art usually isn’t very good. However, when you allow an audience access to your hurts, fears, longings, and deepest wounds you give those in observance a cathartic release along with the freedom to think differently, love differently, and behave differently. This potential for enlightenment is one of the many reasons that using storytelling as a form of advocacy can be so effective.

All photos are courtesy of Isaiah Tanenbaum Theatrical Photography / Flux Theatre Ensemble.

Last year I, along with Flux Theatre Ensemble, produced a one night event focused on the theme of street harassment titled #SPEAK UP: The Street Harassment Plays. We commissioned monologues from six playwrights and asked them to write about their experiences and feelings on street harassment. Our goal was not to “tell” our audience how harmful and ubiquitous street harassment is, but to “show” them how it personally affected the souls of the brave writers who shared their stories. We put our focus on female-identified playwrights, mainly because studies have shown that the majority of victims of street harassment are female-identified and the majority of perpetrators are male-identified. (We did attempt to widen the diversity of our playwrights, but when it came down to it I realized that I didn’t know many LGBTQ artists. I was dismayed by this, especially since in a 2014 study by Stop Street Harassment, people who identify as LGBTQ were more likely to report experiences with street harassment than those who identify as heterosexual. I’ve since worked to amend this dearth of diversity in my artist pool.)

We’re not the only ones who had this impulse. In October of 2014, Hollaback released a video that showcased a woman being sexually harassed by strangers as she walked the streets of New York for roughly 10 hours. The video sparked a bit of controversy for many reasons I won’t get into here, but it did highlight how street harassment can create a sense of being preyed upon for its victims. The woman in the video, actress Shoshana Roberts, often looks afraid, perturbed, and weary as a result of being stalked, aggressively objectified, and criticized by the men who approached her and commented on her body and demeanor. You can see the effects of sexual harassment in her body language as she holds her body more stiffly and begins to pay closer attention to the people in her periphery.


Additionally, last year, Emily Arnold, a comedian, wrote a revealing blog post detailing her experiences with sexual harassment in the stand-up comedy industry. In her post, she artfully (and comedically) exposed the underlying social belief in this country that a man’s sexual approval of a woman is a high honor and should be welcomed in all its forms. Along with this belief is the notion that if a man is aroused by or attracted to someone, then he is entitled to their body, time, and attention. These beliefs, essentially, are the fuel that feeds the fire of street harassment and sexual harassment in general. Additionally, Arnold’s blog revealed that the men (and probably some women) around her had no idea of the emotional toll these beliefs and the abuse that stemmed from them took on her and easily dismissed her complaints.

Lastly, Jen Kirkman, another brilliant comedian, recently began reTweeting the testimonies of women who have shared their stories about street harassment on Twitter. With Hollaback’s video, Arnold’s blog, and Kirkman’s reTweets women’s experiences are being told with their own authentic voices, revealing the hurt, oppression, and oftentimes terror of sexual harassment. Their stories don’t tell you sexual harassment is bad, they allow the reader/audience to see the effects of it in the author’s lives and the audience can then decide for themselves how to absorb this new information.

I’m proud of so many things where #SPEAK UP is concerned, but one of the the most poignant for me was hearing from victims of sexual harassment how powerful and healing it was for them to have the light shown on this topic. So often, we’re told that being victimized by someone who is attracted to us is just a part of life. Calling that absurd notion out as a lie with the Flux team was one of my proudest moments. Another thing that made my heart swell was hearing from several of the men in attendance that the stories they heard illuminated this subject for them in a way that they didn’t expect. I heard phrases like, “I had no idea that women were going through this” and several in attendance, both men and women, vowed to take a more active role in combatting street harassment (safely, of course. Nandita Shenoy’s brilliant monologue The Interruptor gives a hilarious “how to” for this).

All in all, you can be funny, poignant, entertaining, and moving while opening up a can of whup ass on social injustice, but you have to be willing to get bare, and you have to be willing to let people think for themselves. There were those in attendance at #SPEAK UP who didn’t agree with our message and told me so. I’m still very glad they came.

All photos are courtesy of Isaiah Tanenbaum Theatrical Photography / Flux Theatre Ensemble.


Shaun Bennet Fauntleroy is an actress, playwright, and producer living in New York, NY. As an actress, she was most recently seen in Resonance Ensemble’s World Premiere of Burning by Ginger Lazarus, and this June she can be seen in Smith Street Stage’s production of The Tempest. As a playwright, her work was most recently featured in Primary Stages/ESPA’s Detention Series, New York Madness’ Radical Bias night (with guest playwright Chisa Hutchinson), Flux Theatre Ensemble’s ForePlay (appearing before the premiere of Gus Schulenburg’s Jane the Plain), at The Brick Theatre’s “Cleverbot Plays,” and in #SPEAK UP: THE STREET HARASSMENT PLAYS, which she co-produced with Flux Theatre Ensemble. As a producer, she has worked with Gideon Productions, The WorkShop Theater Company, and the HB Ensemble. Proud member of NY Madness, Resonance Ensemble, The League of Professional Theatre Women, AEA, and DGA. Shaun lives in Brooklyn with her dog, Bentley.

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