NEWS | Aug. 13, 2010

Show tackles serious subject with humor

By Mike Joseph 502nd Air Base Wing OL-A Public Affairs

The Air Force takes sexual assault very seriously.

Through outreach programs to heighten awareness and prevention, Airmen are educated about sexual assault with a variety of training techniques throughout their careers.

Officials took a different approach to this serious subject Aug. 6 when they used improvisational comedy mixed with audience interaction to educate more than 850 technical training students from the 37th Training Group about date rape.

"Sex Signals," a two-person show, took a humorous approach to date rape, a controversial subject filled with emotion and misunderstanding. Audience involvement and humor are the keys to the show's success.

"It was a totally different angle," said Allen Blair, Lackland Sexual Assault Prevention and Response program specialist. "It was a great performance.

"We wanted the students to learn. The show takes real-life situations that happen between men and women to another level with the audience participation."

The Lackland Sexual Assault Prevention and Outreach program sponsored three educational shows for the technical training students through an Air Education and Training Command contract with Catharsis Productions.

Humor in real-life situations by professional actors Courtney Abbott and Chris Beier helped dissolve a myth that rape is usually committed by strangers jumping out of dark alleys. In reality, rapes are usually committed by someone the victim knows.

Through its improvised comedy, the show encouraged discussions between the actors and audience about dating, sex and the issue of consent. It also explored how social pressures, gender role stereotypes and unrealistic fantasies can make social interaction a challenge.

The goal of "Sex Signals" is to create the dialogue necessary to dissolve rape myths and encourage thoughtful and accountable behavior. It reaches out to students who have mislabeled coercion as consent, attempting to generate a behavioral change in those students with the realization of a rape's impact on the victim.

"The show has been designed so well and it just keeps evolving," Mr. Beier said. "(The producers) have perfected a formula of approaching people in this specific age range on this topic."

The show originally began as an educational product for college students in 2000. Its success at the service academies soon led to performances for military audiences around the United States and overseas.

The actors log plenty of frequent flyer miles - Ms. Abbott lives in San Diego, Mr. Beier in New York City - with over 200 performances a year.

"Even our founders look around in awe because no one could have predicted (the show's success)," Ms. Abbott said.