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Upcoming performance tackles tough subject

Story by Lauren Horsch

Photo Courtesy Adam Meirink

BirdsPromoPhoto-w2000-h2000The Drake University department of theatre arts took all the necessary steps to prepare its students for the upcoming production of “If We Were Birds.”

The production has a heavy subject matter — rape as a weapon of war. Yet, director John Graham, assistant professor of theatre, said he felt it was necessary to present this play on Drake’s stage.

“I read the play about a year ago,” Graham said. “I had such an emotional reaction to it.”

Graham said the language of the piece, and the emotion of it drew him in and “scared (him) very much.”

“That’s why I thought it was something that needed to be on stage,” Graham said. “If it scares me just reading it, then doing it, would stretch myself as an artist.”

With the subject matter being tough, Graham said he and the actors had to be very conscious of what they were doing. During an early rehearsal, he separated the male actors from the female actors so discussion could happen about the show and its subject.

First-year student Madeline Cramer is an actor in the show and said that while it’s a “very intense play,” it still portrays an important message for all.

“It’s going to affect the audience,” Cramer said. “(The play) empowers women and brings light to the culture we live in.”

With this show being the Denver, Colo., native’s first production for Drake, she said she’s humbled and honored to be a part of it.

“It’s a great introduction (to the theatre department),” Cramer said.

As the director, Graham said the show has been a great way to see growth and achievement in himself and the actors.

“It’s been very fulfilling, just watching the actors grow … and dealing with very tough subject matter,” Graham said.

For Cramer, taking on the role of “Pregnant One,” a woman who was raped and is now pregnant was difficult for her. It made her think about what it would be like to be in that situation outside of the production.

Both Graham and Cramer believe that it’s important for this subject matter to be explored on stage.

“(The subject matter) will make (the audience) uncomfortable,” Cramer said. “It shouldn’t be uncomfortable.”

Graham said that rape can be such a taboo topic in our culture.

“Rape culture in our society, and slut-shaming in our society,” Graham said. “I don’t think it is, and that’s why I wanted to do this.”

He also thinks it’s important to explore the subject on a college campus.

“On college campuses, there is a culture of turning a blind eye to a lot of sexual assaults,” Graham said. “I don’t think that should be accepted.”

This production also becomes a partnership beyond just the theatre department. Graham is utilizing the women’s studies department and the office for sexual violence response and healthy relationship promotion.

Coordinator for Sexual Violence Response and Healthy Relationship Promotion Alysa Mozak is helping organize talkbacks after the Friday and Saturday performances to help understand the subject matter. Since Mozak doesn’t do a lot of work with rape as a weapon of war, she reached out to colleagues to help form a panel. She also helped to get trained advocates in the audiences in case the subject matter were to trigger any performance goers.

The production has been almost an entirely student-led initiative, minus the direction of Graham and some facilitation from other faculty members.

The show opens on Oct. 3-5 at 7:30 p.m., and Oct. 6 at 2 p.m. in the Studio Theatre of the Harmon Fine Arts Center. Admission is $5 for adults, $3 for students and senior citizens and $1 for those with a Drake ID. Tickets are available at the Fine Arts Center Box Office.


Horsch is a junior news/Internet and rhetoric double major. She serves as the TD's Editor-in-Chief. She has been on staff for three years and has been the editor since January 2012.

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