An original production organized, directed and performed by students within the Michigan State Department of Theater titled, "Through the Storm", hit the stage Sunday for the first of two shows.
The performances take a “critical look” at sexual abuse and the different stages of healing for survivors through dance, poetry and scenes. The show was co-created by arts and humanities senior Camille Thomas and theater senior Molly Bennett.
“Molly came to me one day," Thomas said. "She was frustrated about how things were going."
Bennett said the university-wide fallout from the Larry Nassar sexual abuse cases contributed to the creation of the production.
Bennett also said many of the performers have had personal experiences and struggles, and that she hopes to make "Through the Storm" a safe space to generate and encourage dialogue.
Thomas and Bennett said the process of putting together the production became more collaborative than they expected. Since it’s original and student-led, some of the performers also acted as writers, putting their personal stories into the play. Thomas and Bennett made sure to extend the casting call to many multicultural student organizations in order to make it as inclusive as possible.
“I was very intentional with casting the show," Thomas said. "I, as woman of color on a predominantly white institution's campus, am tired being the only person of color on various spaces on campus."
Rachel Swedburg, the sexual assault advocacy coordinator of End Violent Encounters, or EVE, and social work graduate student Claire Plagens were among the audience, and said they enjoyed the production.
“The mixture of the poems, art, the laughter and humor to go along with the pain — it was just really moving and really well done," Swedburg said. "It was really humanizing. It was easy to stay engaged with, it was not overbearing with so much pain."
Plagens interned with EVE last year, a local non-profit that responds to sexual violence on campus, and commented on how the performances implemented current themes and issues.
"I do my all my work on sexual violence. I not only exist in the community, but I've worked in this population," Plagens said. "This kind of work is absolutely necessary and I think people have shied away from it. It's incredibly relevant."
Swedburg also noted the emphasis on diversity.
“I really appreciate how they talked about intentionally making sure they have a lot of backgrounds and a lot of different types of people, which is so important, because this issue is so wide-spread and does affect all of us," Swedburg said. "Often times, we as a society box around certain issues that can only have to this type of person, and it is really important to have that diversity."
As they are both graduating in May, Thomas and Bennett are determined to transform this artwork into a call to action aimed toward the university.
“It was helpful for us as individuals to see that as students at this university — there is a next step," Bennett said. "You hear that all the time, and when you put it into the practice, you really reflect on what you have gone through as individual. Then you hear what if your fellow classmates have gone through. You put that all together, and the big picture is scary ... there’s a lot that has yet to be unpacked, and we've scratched the surface, hopefully.”
"Through the Storm" takes the stage again on Saturday at 8 p.m. in the RCAH Theater. Admission is free.