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‘Was it Rape Then’? In a Short Film, L.A. Women Leaders Use Shakespeare’s Words to Examine Rape Culture

By Vanessa Cate

A young woman (Connor Kelly-Eiding) wakes up, disoriented and disheveled on the floor of a strange apartment. Grasping for her clothes, she rushes out into the hallway and attempts to collect her thoughts.

“Hold, let me be severe with myself, but not unjust. Was it a rape then?”

The quote is from Double Falsehood or The Distrest Lovers, from the early 18th-century, which some scholars (not all) attribute to William Shakespeare and John Fletcher (some believe that English playwright Lewis Theobald was the author).

Authorship aside, the language is potent.

“Was it rape then? No. My shrieks, my exclamations then drove me from myself. True, I did not consent. As true, I did resist; but still in silence all.”

While the quote was originally spoken by the aggressor, the dialogue is reworked so that the victim speaks it aloud to herself. This short film turns the focus of the quote on its head, serving not only to empower women as the focus of the piece, but also to express the burden of guilt and confusion that many victims suffer.

Was it Rape Then? unfolds as a montage, briefly examining various women in different social and personal circumstances. While taking place in an entirely modern, mostly-Millennial setting, the dialogue is comprised of Shakespearian quotes from The Taming of the Shrew, Much Ado About Nothing, The Tempest, Macbeth, Henry V, and Coriolanus.

In the U.S. alone, 1 in 5 women will be a victim of rape in her lifetime. The film boldly draws attention to the largely glossed-over rape culture and portrays the women within it with strength and wisdom, adopting dialogue originally written for male roles as their own, channeling a strength and endurance that survivors hold. It also celebrates a wonderful intersection of the Los Angeles Theatre Community.

Actress Kelly-Eiding made waves last year in Echo Theatre Company’s hard-hitting Dry Land, which dealt with female experiences such as societal pressures, sexual identity, pregnancy, and abortion. Other recognizable feminist faces from the Los Angeles theatre community include the sex-positive Illyrian Players Theatre Co. Founder Carly D. Weckstein, Antaeus Theatre Company’s Abigail Marks, and Charissa J. Adams, whose performance in MORE THAN “NO”’s Cabaret Con-Sensual was the inspiration for the film. The cast also includes MORE THAN “NO” founder Bitsy La-Bourbon and film and Broadway actress Karen Pittman.

MORE THAN “NO” is and outreach and educational group aimed at championing consent-culture through artistic activism. It is one of four groups that together presented the film. The others include Fractured Shakespeare, which “recontextualizes the words of the bard to find new meaning by producing new works from the age-old text”; Casey Gates’ video initiative Lady Brain; and Los Angeles Theatre Makers United for Progress.

Produced by Kari Lee Cartwright, Thaddeus Shafer, and Charissa J. Adams, this film is directed by Kari Lee Cartwright, with screenplay by Thaddeus Shafer adapted from the stage piece which was compiled and performed by Charissa J Adams. It stars Connor Kelly-Eiding, Charissa J Adams, Elitia Daniels, Sujana Chand, and Karen Pittman, and features Abigail Marks, Bitsy la Bourbon, Carly D. Weckstein, Jessica Goldapple, Jess M Garcia, Kari Lee Cartwright, Sabrina Bernasconi, adam Slemon, Andy Forrest, Bruce A. Lemon Jr., Grace Lee, Lisa Grady, Michael James Adams, Richard Abraham, and Thaddeus Shafer.

The National Sexual Assault Hotline: 800.656.4673
For help and other resources visit RAINN www.rainn.org.

 

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