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Unblurring the Lines

Cast against type, Stormy Dumont rehearses her “icky role.” A bully spewing hate speech “is not fun” for the normally soft-spoken 16-year-old, director Kyndra Laughery tells the rest of the cast.

In this scene, Dumont’s character taunts another young woman because of her perceived sexual orientation, and in a later vignette, she is the victim of gossip and slander after reporting a sexual assault.

“It is a labor of love to look at these characters,” Laughery says to the young people who portray apathetic bystanders allowing the aggression to occur and reoccur in both scenarios.

The 10-member cast, most between the ages of 14 and 18, is rehearsing "Unblurring the Lines: A Conversation about Gender Violence in Schools," an interactive theatrical event planned for Thursday, April 7.

The students, from high schools all over the Rogue Valley, are members of Lotus Rising Project’s Youth Empowerment Theatre and Planned Parenthood’s REVolution Group.

The teen theater experience, Laughery says, is an avenue for students who might struggle with the pressure “to fit into the rigid boxes” of high school culture and “are punished when they do not.”

Britney Rutkai, 21, has been a member of YET since her high school days. Now a Southern Oregon University student, she stays involved so she can “stay connected … to make sure that youth are not in harm’s way.”

The public performances are “a way to engage the community in a conversation,” says Laughery. “To say, ‘Hey, we could do better!’ ”

Like previous presentations, this year’s performance includes improvised scenes and poetry that examine gender violence and sexual assault in schools and communities.

Audience members will see a day in the life of a LBGTQ (Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay, Transgender, Queer) youth who is bullied at school and witness the aftermath of a sexual assault. Scenes are structured to trigger a response from the audience, says Laughery.

The characters, she hopes, will prompt audience members to intervene, interact and inspire change. The audience is invited to freeze the action on stage and brainstorm different strategies to help the characters find a positive resolution — “a better outcome, a better choice.”

“One moment may be played over and over as different strategies are explored,” Laughery says.

She likens it to “a microscope zooming in on a social situation.”

The hope is that the audience will “view the world with a new lens.”

Exchanging aggression and apathy for compassion and courage requires a powerful catalytic converter — and a lot of youthful energy.

“They are excited to share this event,” Laughery says of both improv groups.

It is her belief that everyone can contribute to social change, and when youth are engaged and empowered, they can affect the change.

The scenes, focusing on situations that happen on high school and college campuses, are “real,” Laughery says, and with actors who are “not super-polished, both the material and the performances are raw.”

“As horrible as these issues are, they are teachable moments,” she says.

And, there are moments inspired by cast members’ own lives.

“These are situations these youth have at one time experienced,” says Laughery, who writes the scenes in partnership with the cast.

The issues examined are happening at all schools, even the best of schools, she adds.

Dumont, an Ashland High School student, says the past year spent with YET has given her the tools to stand up to bullying, especially the cyber-bullying she sees among her peers.

Once part of a group that joked about and teased other students, she says, “Now, I have the courage to back up the victims.”

Two students, Kate Gilworth, 18, a senior at Crater High School, and Mila Martczyanov, 21, a senior at Southern Oregon University, are incorporating their work with "Unblurring the Lines" into their graduation projects.

Gilworth says “a summertime experience” last year motivated her to look at how “rape is often swept under the rug.”

“It’s shocking,” she says, admitting she was “unaware of a culture that blames the victim.”

She has learned to empathize with victims, she says, and hopes the presentation that includes two poems about sexual assault can promote awareness.

“We need to blame the rapist, and not shame the victim,” she says.

Martczyanov adds that “as a woman, the topic of sexual assault is very present in my life.”

“Thankfully, nothing has happened to me, but it has to friends,” she says. “We are warned to protect ourselves of ‘stranger danger,’ but often (the perpetrator) is someone we know.”

Martczyanov, who is majoring in sociology, believes that the peer-to-peer education integral to both theater troupes is the key “to prevention and awareness.”

Youth “can be a big part of the change,” she says.

"Unblurring the Lines: A Conversation about Gender Violence in Schools," will be presented from 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday, April 7, at the Medford library, 205 S. Central Ave. The evening will end with a panel discussion. Admission is free.

Due to the use of derogatory or adult/teen language, the presentation is rated PG-13. Also, there is a “trigger warning” because of the sexual-assault dynamics and hate speech specific to LGBTQ youth. However, no actual physical violence will be shown.

Reach Grants Pass freelance writer Tammy Asnicar at tammyasnicar@q.com.

Jasmine Doty, 15, of Central Point, and Stormy Dumont, 16, of Ashland, rehearse a scene Thursday from 'Unblurring the Lines' at the Planned Parenthood office in downtown Medford. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch