Two Provocative Plays Explore Power Dynamics of Rape Culture and Racism

Landon Smith '18
As part of the School’s Living in Community (LINC) programming, students and faculty underwent extensive preparation and follow-up discussions to explore the themes and scenarios brought up by SLUT: The Play and Defamation during Fall Term.

During Fall Term, the St. Paul’s School community gathered to watch two unique and gripping plays that offered a fresh perspective on today’s issues (think racism, sexism, and sexual assault). As a result of intensive planning and effort by the School’s Living in Community (LINC) Program, the plays were a huge success, starting student discussions that continued well after the plays had ended.
The LINC Program is an ever-present force at St. Paul’s School. It is dedicated to fostering a healthy community and discussing social justice and the difficulties of high school life. While primarily a required Third and Fourth Form class, LINC is also responsible for appointing students as Fifth and Sixth Form LINC Leaders who serve as both moral and scholastic role models within their communities. They also plan several annual LINC Days, in which a guest speaker is invited to talk to the School.
“The overall LINC curriculum is designed to increase the social-emotional competencies in our students,” said Dean of School Life Theresa Ferns. “I think the theme of this year has been about perspective taking.”
The first production, SLUT: The Play, took an unabashed look at sexual assault and bullying. Director/writer Katie Cappiello and her cast of 11 teens from New York City high schools visited the School to put on a gripping performance. The 90-minute play took a look through the eyes of several New York high school students, exploring how a community reacts to a sexual assault. The provocative play has been in demand since its creation in 2013. Cappiello and her cast have toured California, Georgia, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, and North Dakota, and it has been performed independently throughout the United States, as well as Australia, Mexico, and Canada. Based on a true story and featuring modern music and slang, the play had a sense of vividness to it that struck home with the audience. “One of the goals for the kids in the play is for there to be peer-to-peer engagement; to really make sure the kids watching feel this isn’t trickle down, that we are taking this issue seriously from their perspective,” said Cappiello.
The Fall Term programming involved weeklong planning and a daylong discussion regarding SLUT. The School community, led by faculty and LINC leaders, underwent intensive preparation prior to the play’s performance in October. During the week of the performance, the community met in house and form groups to process discussion on consent, slut shaming, and bullying. A representative from the Crisis Center of New Hampshire was also present at the performance and workshops the following day. In addition to SLUT, the community studied and discussed the text of Cappiello’s other play, Now That We Are Men. This piece looks at sexuality and the pressures of conquest culture from the boys’ perspective.
A month later, the School convened to watch the second play, Defamation by Todd Logan, a thought-provoking piece focused on racism and the impact that it can have on a woman’s life and career. With a cast of just six adults and a set comprised of a few tables and chairs, Defamation transformed Memorial Hall into a courtroom, with the entire St. Paul’s School community serving as a jury. The case pits plaintiff, Ms. Wade, a young, black woman from South Side Chicago, against her former employer, the rich, white, Mr. Golden, whom she is accusing of defamation. The audience witnessed emotional testimony and brilliant cross-examinations, as they tried to decide whether or not Mr. Golden could be held liable. The play was intentionally not a clear-cut case. After the lawyers finished their closing arguments and the audience had to give a verdict, the results were nearly 50-50. The conversation merely started there, continuing for another 45 minutes during dorm meetings that night.
This term, LINC programming has included MLK Day, featuring a day of speakers and workshops focused on equality and justice. The next LINC day on January 26 will focus on mental health awareness.