Vol 58 No. 1 : January, 2006
Vol 58 No. 1 | January, 2005
Prof Addresses Issues Through Student Troupe
A fifth year of interactive performances by a troupe of CSULB students under the leadership of Communication Studies’ Marc Rich is addressing racism and sexual assault in front of audiences that have first-hand knowledge of both.
The interACT Performance Troupe has portrayed real-world scenarios about violence and prejudice before gang members in juvenile lockdowns and homeless women war veterans.
“Most audiences expect ‘We Are the World’ or an after-school special,” said Rich, who founded interACT when he joined the university in 2000. “What they get is reality.”
InterACT’s goal is to use real-life behavior experienced by the CSULB students so that audiences may discover the will to change. “We want our audiences to make the transition from spectator to spect-actor,” he said. “Everyone watches, everyone participates and everyone has something at stake in the performance.”
InterACT has performed in domestic abuse shelters as part of ongoing staff training, for at-risk programs with high school students and has traveled around the country with performances in Oregon, Washington, Kentucky, Michigan and Hawaii. The troupe is also available for CSULB events and classes focusing on gender and diversity. “What students in the interACT troupe find is a feeling of connection,” said Rich. “I think students keep coming back year after year because not only do they see a change in the community, but they see a change in themselves.”
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 asked to come up on stage, whether that audience is composed of juveniles in a detention facility or adults from a domestic abuse shelter. They are on stage co-creating with us.”
Audiences are surprised by the level of reality they find in the performances. “We create our scripts based on journals kept by the students,” said Rich. “Part of the troupe’s rhetorical strategy is that if it’s being said at CSULB, then it’s being said in Kentucky or they’re thinking it in Michigan or they’re acting on it in Seattle.
“And what we find is that audiences tell us they’ve never seen such an authentic performance. This troupe says what people really feel. Audiences identify with the characters and it can be humbling. And they come out of it with a feeling that the individual can make a difference and that it is possible to intervene.”
Rich earned his B.A. and M.A. from CSU Northridge and his Ph.D. in 1997 from Southern Illinois University in Performance Studies.
InterACT wants dialogue more than answers. “Other groups say, ‘Let’s solve racism in an hour.’ What we look for are honest interventions,” said Rich. “The most powerful moment for us is when an audience member moves from the seat to the stage. At that moment, they move from passive to active. We want people to think about, talk about and engage with these issues.”
Before the performance comes the training, during which Rich leads his students in trust-building sessions for seven hours a day over three days at the beginning of every semester.
“When students audition, we’re careful to ask for a one-year commitment,” said Rich. “That’s because students rarely perform until their second semester. That first semester is spent on the issues. I tell our students from day one that they will never be placed on stage until the rest of the troupe is confident that they are performance-ready. The last thing we want to do is perpetuate the issues we are trying to engage. That kind of commitment has attracted students who want to pursue graduate degrees.”
Three troupe members are now M.A. students in Communication Studies, one student is enrolled in medical school and one former troupe member is in a Ph.D. program focusing on performance and social change.
“We’re trying to address the issues of racism and sexual abuse in an innovative way,” he said. “When you’re called into a lockdown facility filled with gang members divided along racial lines, especially to talk about racism, that is a difficult place to go to. But because we’re not going in with the attitude that these darned kids just need to hold hands and sing, we get positive responses. Learned behavior can be un-learned. I have seen the power of performance and transformation. I’ve always believed in my heart that performance can do things that nothing else can.”
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