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InterACT Troupe To Conduct Training For Sailors, Marines Worldwide

Published: August 18, 2014

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PHOTO COURTESY OF MARC RICH
Marc Rich (3rd from right) with members of his troupe.

Marc Rich, a member of the Department of Communication Studies since 2001, recently received a contract from the U.S. Navy to conduct sexual assault training for sailors and Marines at bases worldwide. The InterACT Troupe, Rich, and his leadership team will be spending the better part of the next year traveling around the world performing and training.

The interACT Performance Troupe under Rich’s direction has portrayed real-world scenarios about violence and prejudice before audiences as varied as gang members and homeless women war veterans since 2000. InterACT’s goal is to use real-life behavior experienced by CSULB students so that audiences may discover the will to change. The current U.S. Navy contract runs through February but is renewable for up to three years.

What makes an interACT performance different is its degree of audience participation. “The shows are more than interactive. The troupe is doing more than talking with the audience. The shows are proactive,” Rich explained. “Audience members are invited to come up on stage, whether that audience is composed of juveniles in a detention facility or adults in a drug and alcohol treatment facility. They are on stage co-creating with us.”

Rich was contacted by the Department of Navy Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (DONSAPRO). Comprised of representatives from the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps, DONSAPRO officials made the trip from Washington D.C. to CSULB to view an InterACT performance and meet with Rich and his team. A contract to provide 15 presentations in the U.S. Navy’s Southwest Region followed and then Rich was invited to submit a bid for the worldwide contract. InterACT was awarded the contract and the troupe is bound for the Middle East, Asia, Europe, Cuba and Guam.

Early in the process, Rich began to contact actor-educators and facilitators who had worked with the troupe as long ago as 2000. “We finally assembled a team of 35, the vast majority of whom earned their undergraduate and/or graduate degrees at CSULB,” he said. “I walked into a room for our first rehearsal and I saw people who were willing to put everything aside to work with InterACT. They were so excited to come back and work with the troupe. One reason for that, I think, is a strong sense of community. InterACT attracts the type of students who are passionate about change, who want to make a difference and who are looking for a way to do so.”

There are plenty of challenges ahead. “One of the things we deal with in performance is male defensiveness,” Rich explained. “I think one reason the U.S. Navy chose InterACT was because the troupe has done a strong job of reducing male defensiveness as evidenced in our published research. When our students are in training, they learn they will be performing before audiences as large as 1,300 with the majority of the members being male. It is my guess that naval personnel do not wake up in the morning looking forward to sexual assault training.”

The InterACT sexual assault prevention performances opens with a light tone featuring a cast of men who look and talk like sailors. “There is an immediate identification with the cast,” Rich said. “But when a scene turns to violence, our research has found that, because the audience identifies with the men on stage, and those men turn to violence or support it with their behavior or fail to prevent it, they begin to see they are like those guys and what does that say? That is the light bulb moment.”

The presentations offer a high level of reality which the troupe deals with in several ways. “We never present violence on stage or even anything graphic,” Rich said. “One of the great things about performance is that audience members can use their imagination to fill in blanks. We always have audience members participate but they never take the role of the victim. At the beginning of each performance, the troupe explains where an audience member can go if they need help. We feel we delivered an honest performance if we demonstrated what happens to survivors.”

The troupe has learned to adapt a performance on the fly. “During our visit to the U.S. Navy Base at Great Lakes, Ill., we talked to the base leaders about what issues were specific to that location,” he said. “We then created a new scene and invited naval leadership on stage to enact interventions.”

InterACT works with a wide variety of audiences, from university students to the military and experts in threat assessment.

“We focus our scenes on the needs of the audience,” he said. We are always being told that this or that audience will be the toughest we ever worked with. But we treat each audience with respect and believe they have something to teach us. We consistently see the audience offer creative new interventions we never would have thought of ourselves.

Student training begins in May with auditions and continues in the fall semester with rehearsals, guest lecturers and extensive reading on sexual assault and trauma prevention. “By the end of the year, they have received more than 100 hours of training,” Rich said. “They acquire a better understanding of sexual assault to ensure they understand their mission before they ever go on stage.”

Rich earned his B.A. and M.A. from CSU Northridge and his Ph.D. in 1997 from Southern Illinois University, Carbondale in Performance Studies.

Rich already is busy on his next project, developing and assessing a new presentation on stalking. But whatever the topic, Rich knows his interACT troupe makes a difference.

“I have been doing this long enough to know that any performance that generates more interventions than we have time to enact on stage is a good performance and that’s what we’re looking for,” he said.