Tackling Tough Issues Through Arts and Education

By Beacon Staff

For most, date rape and sexual assault aren’t common – or comfortable – topics of conversation. A local group is hoping to change that.

Over the next two weeks, the Healing Arts Project, a local nonprofit, is hosting an educational workshop and theater production on issues relating to sexual assault.

“These aren’t just women’s issues; they affect our whole community,” Leigh Schickendantz, a counselor and consultant at Two Rivers Center for Holistic Counseling and Healing Arts, said.

The Healing Arts Project is dedicated to raising awareness and promoting healing of serious social issues through theater, education, mentoring and scholarship opportunities. Or, as Schickendantz put it: “It’s about making the world a gentle place to live.”

The Healing Arts Project started in 2005, Schickendantz said, and since then, the group has led presentations and workshops on topics ranging from self-mutilation to helping males working in human services feel comfortable dealing with female issues.

Revenue from the presentations fund a scholarship called Pay it Forward, which pays for youth to participate in the healing arts – anything from sports to music. The project also supports other local organizations; this year’s recipient is the Violence Free Crisis Line’s Peace Project.

Two years ago, the Healing Arts Project launched its theater branch with the play “I Stand Before You Naked,” a compilation of 10 short pieces. The response was good and last spring the group presented the show, “Rita and Inez, The True Queens of Feminity.” The comedy was so popular that they brought the show back for a second run in the fall.

This year’s production is “But I Said No,” a play about date and acquaintance rape by national playwrights Margaret Baldwin and Doug Grissolm. It’s an educational piece that is based on the real-life stories of victims and perpetrators.

The play will run two consecutive weekends, May 15 and 16 and May 22 and 23, with performances at 8 p.m. at the KM Building Theatre in downtown Kalispell. On May 23 there will be a special matinee performance at 2 p.m. with a discounted ticket price of $5 for high school and college students.

“It helps us look at ourselves in the mirror and reconsider the myths of what we think gender roles should be and what we think rape is,” Leah Lindsey, a local radio personality and the play’s director, said.

Through its series of monologues and short pieces, the show looks at date rape through several lenses – traditional gender roles and stereotypes, the legal system and the influence of the media. The play’s cast ranges in age from 15 to about 50.

The play’s heavy topic is tempered with some good humor, Lindsey said.

“It’s not this heavy-hitting, somber thing,” she said. “There’s so much humor in it that people will catch themselves laughing and probably think, ‘Oh my gosh, am I allowed to laugh at this?’”

Audiences, however, should be prepared for adult language and content. Lindsey recommends the play for high school aged audiences and up.

In addition to the play, the Healing Arts Project is also putting on a one-day workshop called “Uncovering Myths: Restoring our Communities Perspective on Sexual Assault.”

The conference will look at issues like power inequality and community attitudes. It’s aimed at interactive discussion, education and advocacy, Schickendantz said.

Keynote speakers at the event are Lori Adams, a Flathead County deputy attorney; Dr. Robert Page, current president of the Montana Sex Offender Treatment Association; and attorney Molly Reno.

Reno was part of a legal team that recently settled a class action lawsuit on behalf of about 500 female prisoners who were raped or sexually assaulted by prison guards in Michigan. For their work, Reno and the other lawyers involved won the 2008 Public Justice Foundations Attorney of the Year award.

“It’s a great group of people,” Schickendantz said, “with powerful stories and experiences to share.”

“Because I Said No”

Production nights are May 15 and 16 and May 22 and 23 at 8 p.m. at the KM Building Theatre in downtown Kalispell. Tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for students and seniors, and are available at Books West or by calling 471-4403.

Uncovering Myths: Restoring our Communities Perspective on Sexual Assault

A one-day workshop on sexual assault held Friday, May 22 held from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Central School Museum in Kalispell. Tickets are $75 per person, or $65 with an agency discount. The registration deadline is May 15.

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