How ‘#RewindBlurredLines’ continues to evolve every year

Leah Hardgrove | Contributing Writer

Every spring since 2014, freshmen have attended a performance about bystander intervention called “#RewindBlurredLines,” put on by Washington University’s Relationship and Sexual Violence Prevention (RSVP) Center. The performance has previously been put on as a part of professor Annamaria Pileggi’s course Advanced Theater for Social Change, with Pileggi herself directing. However, this year, the play has been separated from the class, featuring various actors in the University’s community instead of exclusively students enrolled in the course. Additionally, “#RewindBlurredLines” welcomes a new director, alumna and Career Development Coordinator at the Wash. U. Career Center Phoebe Richards.

“We’re trying to constantly evolve this program for the needs of students, so this year we decided to separate this performance from the course,” Abby Mros, a graduate staff member at the RSVP Center overseeing “#RewindBlurredLines,” said.

Richards and Mros worked together to select a cast that encompassed a wide range of identities so that the characters and performance would feel more relatable to the diverse audience members. The production has two halves: During the first half, the characters and their precarious situation are introduced to audience members. During the second half, the audience is encouraged to intervene. Since Theater for Social Change depends on audience participation, in order for this play to be successful, the audience should ideally be able to identify and sympathize with the characters.

“As a director, I come in with guidelines to help facilitate. But it’s all of us together in rehearsal, discussing together what makes sense to us. This has to come from the community,” Richards said. “If we put a play on the stage that is not identifiable to the audience, this work does not work. It’s my job to facilitate and keep this a place where we can feel vulnerable, where we can take risks.”

Often, in performing sensitive scenes and topics, the audience can become uncomfortable as the actors depict raw, emotional stories. Richards explains that in Theater for Social Change, there is an essential “difference between being safe and being comfortable. Discomfort is often necessary for growth.”

“I’ve learned so much from this work,” Richards said. “One thing that meant a lot to me was seeing [and] recognizing myself in the perpetrator, recognizing myself in a crisis. I can hurt people without realizing that’s happening. Or not listen to what’s really being said. I learned that in a more visceral way by doing it through theater.”

Wash. U. graduate student Daniel Washelesky and junior Victor Mendez, two actors in the performance, have been working tirelessly with the cast to ensure that “#RewindBlurredLines” is successful.

“The situations we are representing are very traumatic and potentially violent. In the real world, there’s violence,” Washelesky said. “By putting this in theater, we can recognize this while staying safe. It allows us to rehearse going out into the world and changing things without trying these things in a truly dangerous environment.”

In order to build a trusting environment each rehearsal, the cast and crew always start with improv games, including “Yes,” a game all about consent. There are also no scripts; instead, each scene has a rough structure with just major elements that need to be featured. Instead of knowing lines, the actors learn their character’s fears and wants, so that they can improvise effectively during audience participation they can improvise effectively. At the end of each session, everyone comes together to share a “grounding out,” a time to debrief after dealing with such heavy topics. Richards tried to make rehearsals as comfortable and safe as possible for everyone involved; if any actor ever felt uncomfortable or emotionally tapped out in a scene, they could easily stop and take a break.

“#RewindBlurredLin es” is a follow-up to “The Date,” a play put on for freshmen during their Bear Beginnings Orientation. After watching “The Date,” freshmen were split into discussion groups based on their preferred gender identification. Freshmen can expect a different format for “#RewindBlurredLines,” however, which has the discussion during the performance with an integrated audience.

Mendez explained the benefits of this inclusive discussion: “In the case that everyone is in the same room, you can hear ideas that someone else has, even if you don’t agree with them. You can see how other gender identification groups would handle the situation, and have that kind of lens.”

“#RewindBlurredLin es” is an opportunity for freshmen to safely address relationship and sexual violence. Director of the RSVP Center Kim Webb will attend each performance as a confidential resource for students. If any audience member feels uncomfortable, they are encouraged to reach out to Webb for support.

The cast and crew of the performance is excited to engage the freshmen class in this interactive, unique experience. They aim to produce a thoughtful and provoking rendition of a burgeoning Wash. U. tradition.

“This is something I advocate for, and I want to see change happen,” Mendez said. “And for audience members to be able to get up and make that change, it’s an excellent step forward.”