Read the newest grantee profile from Teens for Change board member, Gabrielle Moran.
With October having been National Domestic Violence Awareness Month it only seems appropriate to select a project fitting the theme to continue Teens for Change recognition of our youth-led social justice grantees. On September 30, 2014, in his Presidential Proclamation of October being National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, President Barack Obama stated, “Today, as 1 out of every 10 teenagers are physically hurt on purpose by someone they are dating, we seek to once again profoundly change our culture and reject the quiet tolerance of what is fundamentally unacceptable” (http://www.whitehouse.gov). Only one day before the proclamation I conducted an interview with Micah Rabin and Burke Rhodes of Prime Stage Theatre’s production, You Belong to Me, a play centralized around teen dating violence funded by a Teens for Change grant in 2012.
Micah, seventeen, has the female lead of Ally, and Burke, fifteen, was cast as Ally’s abusive boyfriend David. This tour season is Micah’s second year in the production. This will be Burke’s first year involved in the production. Both actors have pursued acting for many years prior to their involvement with Prime Stage Theatre. You Belong to Me was originally written by Debbie Lamedman. The piece follows a personal testimony from Ms. Jodi Cuccia, whose daughter Demi Cuccia, a student from Gateway High School, was a victim of teen dating violence. The production successfully performed five times during last year’s touring season. Micah and Burke revealed how the topic of teen dating violence still holds a taboo status amongst this generation. Burke explained that schools are not as open to discussing teen dating violence as they should be. He further explained that schools are likely one of the best venues to gather, draw attention to, and educate students on the matter. As stated on http://demibrae.com, “1 in 3 teens experience some kind of abuse in their romantic relationships.” This alarming statistic is accompanied by the painfully true fact that only 33% of abused teen partners have informed anyone of their suffering. The play shows how the abuser thrives on the control he or she gains from the victim. Burke discussed that he has been able to explore the mindset of the abuser through his preparation for this role. He explained that like the victim, the abuser also faces insecurity, which in turn can contribute to his or her abusive behavior. The abuser may view his or her partner as someone whom he or she will as be able to rely on. In the occurrence of an apology, to a certain degree the abuser can be genuine in his or her apology.
The actors also explained that there are many levels, variations, and stages of abuse. Teenage abuse can be in the forms of emotional, physical, verbal, or sexual abuse. Verbal abuse often precedes physical abuse. Micah told that there can be verbal abuse without physical, but the converse is not as likely to occur. Both actors also gave insight to an often ignored subtopic to teen dating abuse, female abusers. This situation may not occur as often, but it must be recognized. Burke gave the example of a female in a relationship manipulating her partner continually. When potentially entering a relationship, one must evaluate whether or not it is a healthy choice for him or hers and if there are any signs of beginning stages of abuse. If not recognized early on in the relationship, abuse can escalate to levels with lethal consequences. Abusive relationships have their highs and lows. There are moments of apologies, aspects of the apology may be genuine, but the abuser typically is aware of his or her manipulative ways over the victim.
When asked about the triggers of abuse, Micah and Burke explained how social stigmas and past experiences in the life of the abuser contribute to abuse. Micah vividly described that the negative social stigma of being alone rushes young people into relationships that they may not be prepared for or ones that are purely unhealthy. Both actors told how every situation is different in the sense that an abuser may be affect by past experiences. Some abusers were raised by parents in an abusive relationship, others may have had a fairly normal childhood and a reason such as a chemical imbalance in the brain may cause abusive patterns to form in a person’s behavior.
There are many valuable lessons that can be gained from attending a performance of You Belong to Me. Micah has experienced in past years that the production makes a substantial impact on the audience, due to the fact that they are then able to understand that teen dating violence could affect their own lives. Having a cast of solely young adult actors helps to add emphasize of how realistic these circumstances are. The play provides the audience with a sense of how shamefully common teen dating abuse is, tactics on how to handle an abusive situation properly, and an education including how to identify signs of abuse. There is something for a member of any generation to gain from viewing this production. By indulging in an education on this matter, and spreading our knowledge of the matter, we support the social change led by the youth of Prime Stage Theatre and bring awareness to the social change work that youth are doing in our community.
*Prime Stage Theatre will be performing You Belong to Me TONIGHT, November 6th at 7pm at New Hazlett Theatre. Donations Accepted!
Gabby Moran is a rising sophomore at Oakland Catholic High School.