SLUT in Washington DC

From Katie Cappiello, Writer & Director

Beau Willimon and Michael Kelly introducing SLUT: The Play in Washington DC.

Beau Willimon and Michael Kelly introducing SLUT: The Play in Washington DC.

“Please remember this, DC isn’t the end– it’s just the end of the beginning of this project and movement,” Beau Willimon said to me during one of our many pep-talk brainstorming calls as we planned for SLUT: The Play to debut in Washington, DC at the historic Warner Theatre. This would be the biggest venue to date (1900 seats) and the highest profile event in my 8 years of creating and producing youth-driven, cutting-edge feminist theater.

SLUT is one of three original plays, developed in collaboration with members of The Arts Effect All-Girl Theater Company, starring real NYC students ages 9-19, that the team has toured across city, country and world with the mission of shedding light on the challenges and injustices facing young people– in particular girls and young women.

Since its premiere in 2013, SLUT and its accompanying workshops have reached thousands of audiences members nationwide in NY, CA, MA, MN, ND, and NJ, engaging people of all ages and genders in conversations about sexism, sexual shaming and assault.

My time on the road opened my eyes, and in many ways reaffirmed my instincts. I heard from students, teachers and parents in big cities and small towns that what they really want, what they really need, is comprehensive education and access to information. Students shared vivid stories of their disappointing sex ed experiences, including: teacher-led tours through STDs in Minnesota (“Everyone, this is Herpes Harry– do you really want this man in your bed?”) and hands-on tutorials on condom use in New York (“Ok, girls, let’s practice putting the condom on the styrofoam penis.”) – and these were the students lucky enough to have access to sex ed!

For most high schoolers in the US, sex ed is about mechanics rather than dynamics.

Yet, exploring dynamics is the key to safer, healthier relationships and sexual interactions among young people. It’s time to be proactive in our effort to transform today’s culture of confusion (which too often leads to violation and assault) into a culture of CARE– communication, accountability, respect and empathy. It’s time to implement consent education in high schools across the country and, dare I say, middle schools.

This belief motivated our the play’s trip to the Hill.

Panelists following the performance of SLUT: The Play in DC.

Panelists following the performance of SLUT: The Play in DC.

On May 19, 2015, SLUT would set the stage for an important call-to-action – the call for universal consent education at the high school level.  Along with Beau, we were honored to have Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Senator Mark Warner (D-VA), actor Michael Kelly, Editor-in-Chief of Glamour Magazine Cindi Leive, Executive Director of the DC Rape Crisis Center Sherelle Hessell Gordon, and Executive Director of the Feminist Press Jennifer Baumgardner also on board and scheduled to speak.

We also knew if we wanted to effectively impact lawmakers and the media, we needed to show a unified front of movement leaders dedicated to this effort, so we invited twenty local, national and international organizations to join us. SLUT: The Play in DC was backed by Planned Parenthood, Equality NOW, Men Can Stop Rape, the US Military, Coalition for Adolescent Girls, Deaf Abused Women’s Network, Robert F. Kennedy Foundation for Justice and Human Rights, Latin American Youth Center, DC Rape Crisis Center, Break the Cycle, Advocates for Youth, Becky’s Fun, Casa Org, Children’s Home Society of West Virginia, DC NOW, DC Safe, Eyes Wide Open Mentoring, Feminist Majority, Girls for Change, Network for Victim Recovery of DC, NO MORE, and Women’s Information Network.

Most importantly, we got the kids. Over 900 students (and their teachers) from twenty-five public, private and special needs schools attended the performance and post-show discussion forum.

That evening, the energy in the sold-out theater was like nothing we’d ever experience. The girls brought the audience tears and to their feet with their performance, and the call-to-action was made and received– not only by the audience members who agreed to write and call their heads of schools, school board members, city/state representatives, and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to request that consent education be implemented in their communities, but also by policy makers and members of Congress. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) announced she’s working on a bill that would allow high schools to apply for federal funding to implement consent education. The White House Council on Women and Girls invited us to the White House to discuss next steps, as did Ambassador of Global Women’s Issues, Cathy Russell.

And that’s how we wrapped up our DC adventure– with trips to the White House and the State Department, where the girls shared their personal experiences with sexual shaming and assault (that for some started in just 5th and 6th grade), and explained why consent education is the silver bullet.

SLUT: The Play cast meets at The White House.

SLUT: The Play cast meets at The White House.

“The one in five girls who will be sexually assaulted by the time she is 18 deserves, at the very least, to know that withholding consent was and is her right, and the violation she suffered was not her fault, no matter what she was wearing, what she had to drink, or whatever she may have previously consented to. We also need to empower young people of all genders to communicate clearly– to learn to read the signs of consent, to understand how to give consent and receive consent. The time for consent education is now. We’re ready. Students all across the country are ready. And we know you are too.”

Finally, we pitched the development of a Consent Education Tool Kit for schools. Our suggestion was met with wide-eyes, feverish note-taking, and a plan for following-up and exploring further…

So Beau was right.

Here’s comes the beginning of the next chapter of SLUT.