This month, American History Theater will partner with The Women’s Museum of California once again to present “Speaking Out: Why I Stand”. This intense play is the true-to-life stories of 16 Military Sexual Trauma survivors. Written by survivor Rachel Carter, it has been a vehicle of healing for both her and those whose stories she collected.
Rachel says she collected the stories from around the world, and encouraged fellow survivors to send their story in whatever way they felt comfortable. In poems, raging remembrances and hopeful pleas for a better future, the stories began to pour in and Rachel began to compile them into 16 monologues.
Not an easy show to watch, the stories systematically visit and revisit the way our nation’s military has instinctively covered up the epidemic of Military Sexual Trauma. Each story painfully shows the ways in which survivors’ pleas for help and justice are routinely ignored, along with the way in which many military commands force survivors out of the service due to mental instability. Stories of women, children and men scream from this script, with an intensity that cannot be ignored.
The cast of “Why I Stand” has taken extra care in portraying these difficult monologues, working with director Melissa Malloy to bring the pain, frustration and hopelessness of MST onto the stage in it’s truest form.
“It has definitely been a collaborative process to discover these people and bring them to life,” said Malloy. “Each monologue has a uniqueness to it but they are all tied together as well. These stories are intense and heartbreaking. I hope to bring awareness to the epidemic of MST but I also want survivors to know they aren't alone and there is hope.”
To immerse oneself into the pain of a survivor can be challenging as an actor, especially challenging for an actress who is a survivor of sexual assault. For Maya Grodman, the content is very familiar.
“The issue of sexual violence is very close to my heart,” said Grodman, “and as a survivor myself, I take as many opportunities as possible to participate in artistic activism on the subject.”
Grodman holds a Master’s Degree in Counseling Psychology: Drama Therapy. Only living in the United States for a few years, she knew there was a lot to learn about Military Sexual Trauma.
“Military Sexual Trauma came up in my research, and has been a part of conversations I've been involved with, but I know I didn't know enough,” she said.
Most cast members were not aware of how little support is given to survivors of MST. For Kai Kevin Lin, he was aware it occurred more often in the service than civilian life, but knew he had much to learn.
“What I learned was that anger is the most common emotion,” he said, “that your brain is messed up already from training, and there is not nearly enough education on the subject within the military.”
For cast member Harley Douvier, who grew up gay in a military family, it was still shocking to learn how much physical violence was directed at homosexual men within the services. Several of the stories involve the sexual assault of men by other men.
“I have been talking to my father about people he knew that were personally affected by the Don't Ask Don't Tell policy in his 25 years in the Navy,” said Douvier. “I was aware of DADT but was unaware of the violence happening behind the scenes.”
Each cast member has taken different lessons from their time on the cast of “Why I Stand”. But the consensus among all is that they want this play to bring hope to someone who needs it, that it inspires others to speak out, and inspires audience members to take action against one of our military’s darkest issues.
“Way too many people experience sexual trauma,” said Grodman, “and way too many others can so easily turn a blind eye. I would love for the audience to take away their own healing, through the hope that we are able to capture and share.”
“Speaking Out: Why I Stand” will open at The Women’s Museum of California on Friday, July 21 at 7:30 PM. Survivor-led workshops entitled “The Power of Tribe” will also be a part of this production, giving survivors, advocates and those who want to learn more an opportunity to expand the discussion on MST. Join playwright Rachel Carter at 3 PM on Saturday, June 22, to learn about her motive for creating “Why I Stand” and join survivor Evelyn Thomas as she leads a workshop on Sunday, June 23 at 6 PM.