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Northwestern alums create play tackling sexual violence issues

Liz Light and Russell Love perform in “I Am the Rat.” The play discusses sexual violence and the culture surrounding the issue.

Liz Light and Russell Love perform in “I Am the Rat.” The play discusses sexual violence and the culture surrounding the issue.

Source: Alyssa Vera Ramos

Source: Alyssa Vera Ramos

Liz Light and Russell Love perform in “I Am the Rat.” The play discusses sexual violence and the culture surrounding the issue.

Rachel Davison, Assistant A&E Editor

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When Alyssa Vera Ramos (Communication ’11) was at Northwestern, she worked on student-made productions, directed and performed in “The Vagina Monologues,” and took gender studies classes. Now she is a sexuality educator and the director of the world premiere of “I Am the Rat,” a play discussing sexual violence and the culture surrounding the issue.

Vera Ramos and Cathy Muskett (Weinberg ’13) are the co-creators of the first production from The Scarlet ‘S’ Project, a community theater initiative that addresses sexual violence. “I Am the Rat” runs until May 23 at the Free Street Theater in Chicago.

“For me, telling stories and making theater about these issues is the way to get people invested,” Vera Ramos said.

The play began as a 20-minute piece for the Chicago Home Theater Festival in 2014 and was turned into a “full-fledged project” because of the great reception. Vera Ramos and Muskett spent three months researching statistics and cases of sexual assault, and held community conversations about these issues.

“We’re exploring where the hell these ideas come from, where the idea that just because you’re drunk somebody can do whatever they want to you comes from,” Vera Ramos said. “(The play) is about sexual violence, but it’s also about the systems of silence and shame that all of us grew up with.”

In the fall, representatives from organizations including Rape Victim Advocates, the Chicago Women’s Health Center, and Northwestern’s Sexual Health and Assault Peer Educators were invited to watch and give feedback to workshop performances. Vera Ramos said the play was then modified to be less overwhelming for the audience and include more instances of love with survivors and allies.

Another change was that Deanalis Resto, a cast member and part of the original devising team, told her own story of surviving statutory acquaintance rape, instead of the monologue being performed by another actress.

“Though the actress was excellent, it didn’t feel like my story coming out of her mouth,” Resto said.

Although Resto said her story is not as traumatic as other sexual assault cases, she said it’s still integral to the play to show the validity and importance of all stories.

“Since suffering is not a competitive sport, my experience is not any less valid than those other ones,” she said. “The inclusion of it is important because so many people feel that if they had an experience more aligned with mine, ‘What happened to me wasn’t rape.’ I didn’t even call it rape until two years after it happened because I was in denial. I blamed myself.”

Along with portraying different situations and types of sexual violence, “I Am the Rat” showcases a more inclusive view of victims and survivors than is often seen in mainstream media and news, actress Sindy Castro said.

“There are a lot of stories about a young woman and we really wanted to bring to attention that it’s not just a young white woman that can go through this,” she said. “There’s a lot of faces, and a lot of reasons for people reporting and not reporting.”

Resto and other cast and team members have become more aware of the culture and misconceptions surrounding sexual violence, in part because of the co-creators’ expert backgrounds outside of theater. Vera Ramos recently finished her training to be an emergency room advocate for sexual assault survivors and Muskett is a mental health professional.

“Because they’re so passionate about this issue, it’s been helpful to know they’re coming from caring about this issue, not just putting on a play,” Castro said.

Because of the extensive research and expertise in the related subjects, there is a new level of experience brought to the stories and scenes in “I Am the Rat,” Vera Ramos said.

“It’s about coming on a journey with us and with these characters,” she said. “Theater and stories, for me, are the way to access and begin these difficult conversations, to begin to understand these other peoples’ experiences.”

Twitter: @razdav5678