Community voices

Eliza Mantz ’18 explains how theater can play a leadership role for safety and dialogue at Harvard. 

By Jake Stepansky '17 

This semester, the Harvard-Radcliffe Dramatic Club will produce several theatrical pieces that respond to or address the pressing issue of campus sexual assault: Hyperion Shakespeare Company’s Measure for Measure will provoke conversation about sexual power dynamics in the Loeb Ex, while Our Voices in Leverett Library Theater will allow contributors and performers to share stories surrounding rape culture at Harvard. As such, the HRDC has recently established a permanent partnership with the Office of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response to ensure that these productions are handled with care. Eliza Mantz ’18, HRDC liaison to OSAPR, sat down with me in Quincy dining hall to talk about the collaborative goal of making a safer, healthier Harvard arts community. 

Eliza Mantz '18What does this HRDC-OSAPR partnership looks like on the ground?
We’re starting with the leaders in our community each season – our directors, producers and stage managers, the people who control the climate of the rehearsal room and the audition room directly – and we’re working with OSAPR to create a standardized system of power dynamics and vocabulary. We’re working to understand how the people who lead our community can take steps to making it safer and more comfortable. We have workshops with a representative from OSAPR, in-depth discussions about what’s going on on campus and in the world, and the role we play in perpetuating that or combatting it. We talk about words that it’s not OK to use in rehearsals, how to open up the rehearsal room so all identities feel comfortable, how to operate in a power dynamic that serves the art that you’re working on while also uplifting everyone in the group and not making anyone feel vulnerable. [We want] everyone in the cast and the staff to feel like their voices are being heard equally. OSAPR has been helping our leaders get there, and from there we’re working with shows that deal with content specifically related to sexual assault, gender equality, consent – and working with every member of that group so that the vocabulary and behavior expectations are normalized across the entire group.

Why is it important that this partnership exists now?
This partnership between the HRDC and the OSAPR is coming at a time when the conversation surrounding sexual assault climate on campus is really pertinent and affects all aspects of student life. We as leaders in the arts community and the community at large respond to what’s going on on our campus, whether it be related to race, gender, class, etc. For us the sexual assault issue is really urgent. We hope that the arts can be a place where people can make work and come together in a way that is healthy and open and safe, as well as being free and creative and an outlet for expression. That’s why it’s important for us to create an environment in theater where we’re thinking about these issues, and we’re responding to them in such a way that it will heighten the work we do and the way that we do the work. OSAPR is helping us to learn how to do that.

What would you say to a prospective student about the arts at Harvard?
There’s a call now for theater-makers and art-makers in general at Harvard to have a hand in changing our campus and changing our world for the better: thinking about issues that affect us every day and expressing them and combatting them and starting dialogues about them through our theater. More and more people feel like art and theater allows their voice to be heard, and that’s a platform through which to tell stories that don’t always get told, represent people in ways they are not always represented and begin discussions within the theater community that feel unsafe or scary or controversial. Theater brings people together in a way that not a lot of other things do, and that’s where those conversations can be had. The arts are not separate from any other facet of college life. The arts are deeply integrated into artists’ lives and community life, and that’s why people feel more and more like it’s OK to stand up for something you believe in through theater.

What does it feel like to be a member of the Harvard community?
It feels like a home where I can be heard.

See also: Theater