We’re all good kids, every one of us.
That’s what the ensemble of playwright Naomi Iizuka’s “Good Kids” keep telling each other throughout Pitt Stages’ latest production, inspired by real events from a 2012 high school sexual assault case in Steubenville, Ohio.
But when the story rewinds to the morning after the attack — the questions about who is or isn’t a “good kid” stop, as a girl, Chloe, stands alone on the stage. Despite her peers’ perpetuated rumors and social media posts, she struggles to remember details from the night before — that spot on the floor, the ceiling tiles, anything but what the Steubenville football players did to her — then strips to her underwear, nearing tears as she looks for answers.
The Big Ten Theatre Consortium’s New Play Initiative, which will commission a female playwright each year for the next 10 years to write plays that universities across the nation will then perform, debuted Iizuka’s production in 2014 at the University of Michigan as part of a seven-stop tour.
Showing at the Henry Heymann Theater, Pitt Stages, the flagship production company for Pitt’s department of theatre arts, debuted “Good Kids” in Pittsburgh Wednesday night, which will run through Nov. 22.
Iizuka unveiled “Good Kids” to combat the culture of sexual violence on campuses. The production purposefully avoids the use of age and last names, making it as relatable to its student audience as possible. The play also emphasizes the facilitating role social media and alcohol play in sexual assault — mirrors inscribed with Twitter hashtags hang in the stage’s background, and characters constantly hold either a phone or a red solo cup, or both, in their hands. During Chloe’s rape scene, her assaulters shout hashtags signifying the harm our cultural obsession with social media can have on sexual assault victims.
According to freshman psychology major and audience member, Emily Dentinger, other campuses might not produce shows such as “Good Kids.”
“I don’t think that a lot of universities would be comfortable with this kind of a show being put on,” she said. “So I think it’s really great that we’re a part of a community that allows the conversation to be had.”
In addition to students and curious minds, representatives from the University Counseling Center will attend each performance for those who need support during the show.
Pitt junior theatre major Jiane Amoroso, who plays Madison, a popular soccer player and Chloe’s classmate, sees the play as a creative platform to start a dialogue about sexual assault across the nation.
“Sexual assault is an extreme topic, and it’s happening. It needs to be brought to light,” Amoroso said. “Hopefully the production will provoke a sense of urgency or action that if they encounter something like this, it needs to be talked about.”
In addition to its 11 shows, Pitt’s “Good Kids” also boasts a website with national sexual assault statistics from nonprofit organization Rape Response Services, as well as a message Chancellor Patrick Gallagher issued earlier this year on campus sexual violence, among other media coverage of the Steubenville case.
Director Lisa Jackson-Schebetta, who has worked with the Pitt department of theatre arts for five years, said the play empowers students to “connect and to take responsibility for the things that happen on our campuses.”
“It challenges us to look more closely at ourselves and confront violence and how society allows for violence, as well as our complicity or lack of resistance to change it,” she said.
Those involved with the production hope to speak to Gallagher’s call to end sexual assault on Pitt’s campus, and Jackson-Schebetta hopes that “Good Kids” ignites that movement.
Iizuka’s intention was to write a play relevant to college students. According to the National Institute of Justice, an estimated 35 incidents of rape happen each academic year for every 1,000 women attending a college or university.
The Association of American Universities also found that 21 percent of undergraduate females and 6 percent of undergraduate males reported being victims of sexual assault on campus this calendar year.
Senior marketing major Claire Sabatine, who plays Brianna, another of Chloe’s peers, said victims of sexual assault will relate to “Good Kids,” but hopes it reaches non-victims as well.
“The production is based off of the Steubenville case, but our story takes place in Anywhere, USA,” Sabatine said. “Sexual assault may not be happening to you personally, but it’s out there, and it needs to stop. We can’t compare our numbers to other campus’ numbers — we need to eliminate them altogether.”