When Shelby Klemann learned how many students were auditioning for the PSUC theater department’s production of Naomi Iizuka’s “Good Kids,” she jumped out of her seat and ran to talk with the show’s faculty director, Shawna Mefferd Kelty.
“I was like, ‘please let me be the assistant director,’” Klemann said. “I knew immediately who deserved to be those parts and who would be able to fulfill them.”
The theater department’s four-day run of the show took place April 12 to April 15 in Hartman Theater. “Good Kids” is based on the 2012 Steubenville, Ohio, rape in which a high school girl was assaulted by a group of boys on the Steubenville High School football team after a house party.
In Iizuka’s play, the boys are referred to as the Mustangs, a crew of friends on a fictional high school football team.
“The main thing [the play] touches on is sexual assault,” said theater major Peter Konsevitch, who played the insecure and conflicted character of Tanner, a member of the Mustangs. But it also focuses on many of the issues that surround sexual assault, he said.
Theater major Brett Hughes played Connor, star quarterback for the Mustangs and leader of the crew.
“I think it shows us as a modern society, like things we deal with as kids in high school and college,” he said.
The play and the production process served as a powerful learning experience for those involved.
“I think there’s a big difference between being against sexual assault and understanding sexual assault,” said theater and broadcast journalism major Arin Cotel-Altman. “This play has really bridged that gap for me.”
Cotel-Altman played Chloe, a fun-loving high school student who, after a night of drinking, wakes up in a basement unclothed, in pain and clueless as to what happened.
The theater department began the audition process last fall, and by early November, the cast list was set.
When the spring semester commenced late this January, “We came back and hit the ground running with rehearsals,” Konsevitch said.
For most of this semester, the cast rehearsed five times a week — often for three to four hours at a time. As the opening day approached, Hughes said, “We were in there all week.”
“Seven days,” Konsevitch added.
At first, some of the cast tried to distance themselves from their characters by wearing masks during rehearsals.
“If their character was a bad guy, they would make it a really goofy one,” assistant director Klemann said.
She told them: “If you want it to be believable and honest, you actually have to be that asshole; you have to say the R-word. They were pushing themselves away, and once they had to accept it, it weighed on the entire cast.”
Konsevitch, having acted in a number of productions, said he went into this performance thinking it was simply another play. He was just out to do his best.
“But what I’ve found is I learned a lot about what it means to be human,” he said.
The cast and crew have all become more educated on the topics the play addresses, he added.
“It’s impacted us in different ways.”
Cotel-Altman said she wanted to do everything she could to better understand the issue.
During the course of the semester, even as she spent hours each night rehearsing, she found time to talk with friends who have experienced sexual assault. She went to forums about it on campus. She spoke with counselors.
“Not by doing all that, but just shaping this character has helped me understand what so many women go through,” she said. “It’s amazing that theater can do that.”
Theater major Danielle Houck played Madison, a mean-spirited and outspoken character.
“Playing her has kind of brought me out of my shell in everyday life rather than just on stage,” Houck said. “I’ve been a lot more confident in the things I do.”
Hughes had challenges to face as well.
At first, he was a stage manager and was not acting before taking on the part of Connor.
“Having to build a character and find all these connections, it was tough,” he said. “I feel like doing the show made me stronger.”
Klemann said “Good Kids” shows the effects of our society on our youth. And for her, the play and production process reinforced many things she had already learned.
“It was relearning how our body and mind process traumatic events and how society has given us this spectrum of perspectives on things like rape culture,” she said. “It was reaffirming some of the things I found out through my own experience of being a woman.”
Cotel-Altman said she thinks the point of the play is to spark conversation about sexual assault and to not let the conversation die out.
Konsevitch said: “Hopefully this small step on top of many other small steps will lead to a grand step in making people feel safe and secure in themselves. And through the conversation not dying out, people won’t feel alone.”
Email Kody Mashtare at firstname.lastname@example.org