Arts & Culture

Theater outreach program On Stage visits Augsburg

Jen Kochaver, Features Editor

There are many benefits to Augsburg’s location in the heart of Minneapolis. We’re able to experience a rich and diverse community, we have many opportunities for learning and working outside of the classroom and we have plenty of fun available to us on the weekend.

Though many college students in the Twin Cities take advantage of access to concerts and movies, it’s much less common for younger people to think to head to the theater and catch a play; yet, we live in an area with one of the most thriving theatre scenes in the country, and Augsburg happens to be within walking distance from four phenomenal theaters. On Stage, a theatre outreach program based in the Twin Cities, is working to change our perception of theatre and its place in our lives as young people.

I had the chance to sit in on On Stage’s visit to Augsburg this past Tuesday, where students had gathered to discuss “Actually,” a play by Anna Ziegler, running through March 10 at the Highland Park Community Center, put on by the Minnesota Jewish Theater company, which focuses on two Princeton students, one a white Jewish woman and one a Black man, recounting a night they spent together to a university panel tasked with determining whether or not a sexual assault took place.

On Stage states on their website that their goal is to “enhance in-class learning, to make local theater relevant to younger and non-traditional audiences and to lay the groundwork for building future theater attendance.” In one-hour sessions held in classrooms at Twin Cities universities, high schools and community centers, On Stage brings plays directly to the people by bringing actors into the space to perform two scenes from their play. The audience is given all the necessary backstory to understand the scenes as these sessions are intended to be accessible to those who’ve never seen the play. In fact, the discussion is intended to encourage attendees to go on to see the full play after the session, and On Stage provides a ticket discount code to make seeing the full play easier.

On the On Stage panel were Stuart Gates, actor and teacher at the Guthrie; Miriam Schwartz and JuCoby Johnson, actors in the play we’d gathered to discuss; and Lucas Erickson, the program manager of On Stage. Schwartz and Johnson began by describing the theater space to us, helping us visualize the atmosphere of a typical performance. In “Actually,” Schwartz and Johnson are the only actors, portraying characters Amber and Tom, and spend much of the play speaking directly to the audience, who sometimes serves as a stand-in for the University panel and sometimes as a confidant for the characters. Add in that the show is performed with a 120-seat house, and you get a highly intimate show.

Next, we were read two scenes from “Actually.” They first explored Amber and Tom’s differing experiences of the night the alleged assault took place. Tom focused on his attraction to Amber, his blurry memory of the night and his hope that Amber had enjoyed their sexual encounter; Amber focused on how excited she was to be out with such an attractive and cool guy, how carefree she’d felt during their night out together and how she’s never felt comfortable in her life saying no, especially to sex. The second scene dove more into their struggles to recount the specifics of their sexual encounter, the differences in their stories and the separate pressures they each felt to tell a certain kind of narrative.

The remainder of the event was spent in group discussion on our impressions of the characters and their attitudes towards sex and consent, our own attitudes towards sex and consent and the cultural opinions towards and implications of cases like Amber’s and Tom’s. The group, with guidance from the panel, dove into discussions on affirmative consent and the importance on clear communication throughout any sexual encounter (including and perhaps especially casual ones), the internalized pressure on women to be silent, and the history of false accusations of rape against Black men by white women.

Through their hour with us, the On Stage panel helped bring the essence of “Actually” into our discussion room and opened up difficult dialogues about sex, rape, consent and race.

This article was originally published in the March 8, 2019 issue.