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It's in your hands

Domestic abuse thrives in silence. That's one of the messages in the new play by the Peer Education Players (PEP) that will be performed in high schools and middle schools across this district in the coming school year. "The thing about domestic ...

Domestic abuse thrives in silence.
That's one of the messages in the new play by the Peer Education Players (PEP) that will be performed in high schools and middle schools across this district in the coming school year.
"The thing about domestic abuse is that oftentimes the victim in the situation doesn't talk to people about what's happening. A lot of people keep too quiet," said Colleen Daugherty, artistic director of the Duluth Playhouse who worked with the PEP students to write the play, "In Your Hands."
"Our major message is that it's all in your hands, you have to speak up," she said. "A lot of people don't speak up when they're the victim."
"It's in all of our hands to change these situations," added Emily Lanik Parr, the new education director for the Playhouse who came on board earlier this year. "There's a positive message in the play -- there is an escape. There is help. It's a very powerful piece."
This isn't the first time the Peer Education Players have mounted a powerful play that speaks to issues facing teenagers today.
PEP was formed three years ago to tour a play in the schools by Illusion Theater, called "Talk It Out." The play dealt with mental health issues.
Daugherty said while rehearsing the play the students kept criticizing the dialogue because it didn't ring true to them.
"I started realizing we had to create stuff for this area, that we should just write our own," she said.
So the next year, that's just what they did. "Wall of Silence," a play about teen stress and suicide, was a powerful piece that enabled teens across the school district to talk about the issue.
This year, "In Your Hands" should have an equivalent impact.
Written by the students with input from Daugherty and Kathy Rose, a counselor at the Center Against Domestic Abuse in Superior, the play is about a high school romance that goes sour.
"The relationship starts up in a good way," Daugherty said. "Then Mary (played by Kali Gritzmacher) notices Jeff (played by Justin Hager) has a temper. His father is that way. It turns into verbal abuse and then into physical abuse, but she's frightened to get out of the relationship for fear of her life. At one point she says, 'I'm scared he's going to kill me.' "
"He's a normal kid who has abusive parents and a really grave problem in how he controls his anger," Lanik Parr said. "It could be anyone. We don't see what goes on behind closed doors."
The issue is resolved when Mary talks to a friend and finds the strength to break away from him.
A subplot in the play takes a look at healthy relationships, too, Daugherty said, as well as sexual harassment.
"There's side plot where non-popular students at the school get together, and it's a very healthy relationship," she said. "So you can see the contrast between a healthy and non-healthy relationship develop in the play."
The sexual harassment issue is also a powerful part of this play, serving to educate students about the issue.
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Daugherty said PEP previewed the play at a few middle schools last year.
"The reactions were good, really surprising," she said. "The kids were responsive. There's a lot of young men who sit in the audience and watch (the sexual harassment) and they don't realize what an idiot they look like when they do the same thing until they see the Randy character do that. That's the power of theater. Without having to say anything, you let people see themselves, and then they react accordingly. It's kind of neat."
"In Your Hands" is in the final stages of rehearsal at the Duluth Playhouse, and the students who wrote the play and are acting in it are excited about mounting it this fall.
"It's different to be in a play so real," said Rachel Carroll, a ninth grade student at Marshall." This relates to real life."
"This play shows a lot how schools carry on, the cliques and everything," said Justin Hager, a ninth grader from Superior Senior High School. "People are so insensitive about relationship abuse. There are ways to stop it. Just telling someone -- a guidance counselor, a friend, can make a difference."
Two different PEP casts are rehearsing the play that will be offered to the school district in the coming school year. A preview for school counselors, teachers and parents of the students will be held on Thursday, Sept. 14.
For more information, call 733-7555.

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