What It Feels Like To Be In a Play Called "SLUT"

Last fall, a group of teenage girls and their director-mentors presented SLUT: The Play at the New York Fringe Festival. Audiences and local media took notice of the small production – which sheds light on the realities of teen sexual assault, slut-shaming and victim blaming – immediately. The play (and the girls) received rave reviews. They added performances. Those performances sold out. Gloria Steinem went to see the play. She called it “truthful, raw, and immediate.” The Daily Beast wrote a story about SLUT: The Play. They titled it Gloria Steinem’s Favorite New Play. New York Magazine and MSNBC interviewed SLUT: The Play cast members. They were, as they say, blowing up.

It’s now seven months later and the positive buzz and momentum around SLUT: The Play shows no sign of slowing down. Starting this weekend, the play begins its first national run, with several performances in Los Angeles. After that, the cast travels to Fargo, North Dakota for three nights and, upon their return, will launch a series of new dates in New York. Performances in DC and Boston are in the works. Later this year, SLUT: A Play and Guidebook for Combating Sexism and Sexual Violence will be published by the Feminist Press. The group has also spearheaded a campaign called the StopSlut Movement, which is bringing awareness, support and a safe space for teenagers to talk about sexual pressures and abuse within their schools. The crusade against slut-shaming is having an important moment.

The plot of SLUT goes like this: Joey Del Marco, a fictional student at a Manhattan prep school and a member of a dance troupe that playfully calls themselves “the Slut Squad,” is out one night with a group of guy friends. After some early, heavy drinking, they all get into the back of a cab where Joey is held down and sexually assaulted. In an eerie foreshadowing of the Steubenville rape case (SLUT was written before the Steubenville story broke), Joey discovers the details of her assault as it’s documented on various social media channels. After she comes forward with her story, many of her classmates and friends – and their parents – turn against her. She’s called a slut and a whore, she’s shamed and her voice is not heard.

The cast spent a year and a half developing SLUT in workshops at the Arts Effect All-Girl Theater Company (founders Katie Cappiello and Meg McInerney directed the play). It’s based on the girls’ own high school experiences and journal entries and, because of this, the language throughout is racy and honest and alive, the way real girls talk to each other. The play was workshopped for months before Cappiello and McInerney completed the script.

We caught up with the all-female cast and the directors to see how the unexpected success of their play – and it’s emotionally wrought and graphic subject matter – has impacted their lives.


How SLUT: The Play was born:

Vikki Eugenis, 16: We were in class, just spending hours talking, and we realized one of the main issues affecting teenage girls was beliefs about sluts and slut shaming and we started talking about, “Who has the right to call someone a slut?” We wanted to take the word out of everyday conversation.

Alice Stewart, 15: We all had the general consensus that this was important, it was happening to all of us, we needed to talk about it.

Bella Danieli, 13: The themes in the play were so familiar to me and my life, they were things I was seeing at school and with my friends, especially in the last year.

Eliza Price, 16:  I was in 8th grade when we first started talking about the play and I felt worried like, “I can’t relate to this, I haven’t been called a slut,” but then my part in the play is actually about giving a boy a voice. I have a little brother and I see that [slut-shaming culture] is not easy for boys either and that’s something that gets overlooked.

Kate Cappiello (director): We weren’t worried [about the subject matter] exactly … but we were always sensitive. Every step of the way we engaged (and still do) the girls in conversations about how they were feeling taking on this subject matter and they told us it was something they were (and still are) very passionate about and determined to address. The reality is, this play came from them. We followed them –  it’s their truth – it reflects their experiences with sexual shaming and violence and we make a point NEVER to censor the things they bring up. They’re 14-17 years old and this is what they’re living at parties, in the hallways, walking down the street, in their bedroom, on the FB pages – so who better to take on the issues? As a team, they decided they wanted to give people a first hand look at what they and their fellow girls face day-to-day. To them, it’s not risqué, it’s the truth. A truth that people don’t often want to see – but a truth that still needs to be told. That’s actually something we talk about all the time – telling the truth is hard – it takes risk and courage. And even though we had many heart-to-hearts about what kids at school might say, or teachers, or family members, the girls felt being honest about the impact of rape culture on their lives was paramount. They’ve had enough.

Maya Blake, 17: [Before I joined the cast] I was taking tickets, I was sitting in on rehearsals and I just felt like ‘WOW, this is something very special.’ All of the characters were so relatable, which was so important. I got to see behind-the-scenes. Initially I was fine being on the sidelines, but when I saw the production I thought I need to be a part of this NOW.

Though most of the cast members collaborated on an initial draft of the script, some were still surprised (and even nervous) when they first saw the results of their work: 

Darci Siegel, 15:  I was shocked when I first read the script. It scared me in the beginning. I kept thinking: What’s the reaction going to be of my family? Of my peers? How would I deal with negative reactions?  But those feelings made me want to do the play more, that’s why we needed this.

Marcela Barry, 17: I was grateful they were being so honest, not sugar-coating the situation, it felt authentic. People forget how much young women know by the time they’re even 12 and coming into their own sexuality.

Willa Cuthrell, 16:  I liked the play immediately. It wasn’t traditional. It took a lot of risks, it was really, really edgy. I knew it was going to be a great experience from that first time I read it.

Over the weeks of initial performances, the reactions the cast and directors received were strong and surprising — in both negative and positive ways:

Marcela Barry: I’ve had people say they feel like [the play] is excusing the slutty actions girls make. And to hear someone say that was so shocking, you realize not everyone is informed. The play is needed to inform people and to remind them how much harm words can have on other people. Or people will say, “Oh is that about a girl who is really slutty?” They don’t realize what they’re saying.

Winnifred Bonjean-Alpart, 16:  Feminism has always been stigmatized, so I was worried about people’s reactions, I didn’t want the attention at first. But I’ve only received an insanely positive reaction to being in SLUT.

Clare Frucht, 16: The response from guys has been amazing— they’re really into the message of the play. What you realize is slut-shaming affects both males and females. For guys there’s this “gang” mentality and all this sexualization and pressures to be sexual. Boys don’t want to be called a “pussy.” But they have sisters, mothers, female friends and it makes them relate to the message of the play.

Eliza Price, 16: I’m still hearing things like “This doesn’t happen, Girls don’t go through this.” Or like, “Girls who dress a certain way are asking for it—it doesn’t happen to girls like us.” I think we forget if we have progressive parents and go to progressive schools that a lot of people live in close-minded places. They don’t have the opportunities we have.

Samia Najimy Finnerty, 16: When you’re speaking for other people who have been in horrific situations, you feel a responsibility to represent their experiences in a way that feels real and true and so far the reaction to this play has been amazing — people keep saying it feels true. And that, for me, is why we’re doing this.

Danielle Cohen, 17:  The boy response and, in fact, the girl response has been disappointing to me. There were a lot of negative reactions — they think the Women’s Empowerment Coalition is unnecessary. The play makes all of these issues digestible and understandable, but the play is not going to do it all. We still have a lot of work to change society’s views.

Katie Cappiello: As we were mounting this play, I was very nervous. I, of course, believed in the girls and the importance of their story 100 percent, but you never know how people are going to respond. A group of teenage girls in a play entitled SLUT?! We were pushing the envelope even in New York City. For all the right reasons, yes. But it was scary and Meg and I are so fiercely protective of the girls and their right to speak. So when audience members came rushing up to us after performances, and emails from girls throughout the US, and even London, Brazil, Venezuela, Japan, Germany, Scotland, starting flooding our inboxes, and girls (and boys, actually!) from NYC rallied behind the play and the cast…I was honestly shocked. It’s awesome to see how much people want engage in this conversation.

Meg McInerney (director): One of the most surprising, and exciting, aspects of this process has been the response from teen boys. During every show, Katie and I stand in the back of the theater and love watching the audience’s reaction to the play. Night after night we were blown away by the number of boys in the audience sitting on the edge of their seats with tears in their eyes. Then during the post show discussion, boys were often the first one’s to ask a question and engage in the conversation. Brothers of cast members stood up and shared how proud they were of their sisters for being so brave and how their perspectives have shifted. We now have hundreds of boys throughout NYC who are a part of our StopSlut coalition and have joined their female peers to create REAL culture shifts within their school community. One male student even started a petition to New York City’s Mayor Bill deBlasio demanding that consent education be taught in schools. In order for real change to happen, boys and girls have to talk and work together. We are seeing this happen first hand – and it’s thrilling.

What should the legacy of a play called SLUT be?

Mary Miller, 16: For people to really remember it and go through their lives thinking about it and remembering. If people approach a situation differently because of this play, carry it with them through their lives, then we’ll have made a difference.

Vikki Eugenis, 16: It’s going to be interesting to see how it’s different everywhere we go. We’re going to perform this play in North Dakota next month, in a state that has one abortion clinic. It’s really strong material.

Alice Stewart, 15: I don’t want the conversation to end with the performances! I want SLUT to help people realize that the whole rape culture is such bullshit.

Winnifred Bonjean-Alpart: What SLUT has created is not only an audience enjoying the play and being entertained, but a movement. We’re implementing a strategy that sparks conversation, we don’t have all the answers, but we just want 16-year-old girls to be able to talk about sex and rape and not feel ashamed.

Samia Najimy Finnerty: I hope more people can see it, I hope people keep using the script. It’s a powerful script and I think it will be powerful for a long time.

Katie Cappiello: Well, this is dreaming big but…maybe the next Vagina Monologues? We are Eve Ensler devotees – The Vagina Monologues helped us find our feminism and theater activist voices. We’d love to see SLUT performed at high schools, college campuses, and community centers anywhere and everywhere by young people as a way of sparking conversations around sexuality, bullying, and rape in their communities. We hope SLUT and the StopSlut movement can be helpful tools in shifting attitudes and culture for years to come.

Eliza Price: I’ve always cared about women’s rights, but this made me feel like I had to change stuff, it made me want to participate, to call myself a feminist, and to do more. I realized we’re just a group of teenage girls, but we’re doing something, we’re not sitting back and watching, we’re affecting change. If we can do it, anyone can.

 For more information, or to check out upcoming performances of SLUT: The Play, head to sluttheplay.com 

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