The play “A Streetcar Named Desire” is full of examples of domestic violence, but when Tennessee Williams wrote it in 1947, domestic violence was not a topic most people discussed, even when it was happening right in front of them.
Now, 65 years later, the Maine Humanities Council is not only giving people a chance to talk about it, it’s leading the discussion. The Council has partnered with Outside the Wire, a New York City-based social impact/theater company, and the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence to present dramatic readings of scenes from “Streetcar Named Desire” followed by a facilitated conversation with the audience.
Outside the Wire uses theater and a variety of other media to address pressing public health and social issues. On behalf of the Maine Humanities Council, last year the company visited Maine and presented readings of ancient Greek plays in two different performances, “End of Life” and “Theater of War.”
This year, as part of its longstanding Literature and Medicine Program, the Council commissioned Outside the Wire to develop a piece specifically about domestic violence. Members of the Maine Coalition were also invited to help with every step along the way. “I can’t tell you how much our partners, the domestic violence prevention agencies, have added to this performance,” says Lizz Sinclair, who oversees the Literature and Medicine Program. “They’ve really helped to educate both the theater company and the staff here about the issues, and helped us in thinking through the play and the scenes that would be used.”
The group has spent the past six months preparing for the performances, and it has left Lizz with a greater awareness of how difficult it can be for someone to leave an abusive relationship. “A lot of people ask why doesn’t the victim just leave?” she says. “There are so many barriers and so many issues and also, is it really the right question? Why don’t we look at the abuse instead? Why do we focus on the victim rather than the person who’s perpetrating the violence.”
Working on the project taught the partners from the domestic violence prevention agencies something as well. “It is incredible to really look at and pick apart scenes from a well known play and see them in a different light,” says Jane Morrison, Executive of Safe Voices. “Upon scrutiny, we were able to see so many aspects of domestic violence.”
What to expect at the performance
The actors will give dramatic readings from selected scenes from the play. When they are done, a panel of community members who represent different perspectives on the issue of domestic violence will share their reactions. The audience will then be invited to join the discussion, which Bryan Doerries, the theater company’s artistic director, will lead. “If there’s one thing that I’ve learned from listening to our community partners in Maine,” he says, “it’s that domestic violence can be a profoundly isolating and shameful experience. Through the project, we hope to generate an open, empathetic community discussion about domestic violence and, most importantly, to convey a healing message to all people who have experienced domestic violence in Maine. “A Streetcar Named Desire” was written by Tennessee Williams in 1947 and set in New Orleans, but there are behaviors and situations in the play that transcend culture, geography, and time.”
John Ford Theater, Portland High School
April 16, 2013 | Tuesday evening, 7 – 9 pm
Franco-American Heritage Center
April 17, 2013 | Wednesday evening, 7 – 9 pm
Gracie Theatre, Husson University
April 18, 2013 | Thursday evening, 7 – 9 pm
Optional donation: $10.00
Take home message
People attending the performance will get information about all the community resources available to someone experiencing abuse. Agencies from the Coalition to End Domestic Violence will also have tables set up and advocates on hand if anyone wants additional information.
Matthew Perry, with Family Crisis Services, says he hopes that people will leave not only with a greater understanding about domestic violence, but also with the understanding that we are all part of the solution.
“Although most people will say domestic violence is wrong,” Matthew says, “they often will blame the victim for the abuse they are enduring and fail to hold the abuser accountable. I hope that audience members can recognize that we, as community members, often do this without realizing what we are doing. We believe we are being helpful, but alas we are not. No one deserves to be abused, abuse is always wrong.”
Visit the Coalition to End Domestic Violence to learn more about resources throughout the state.