Survivors of Sexual Violence Find an Outlet in Performance

By Juliette Rocheleau
Medill Reports

Rory Beckett is 4 feet 11 inches tall, but as she thrashes her whole body to headbang, the shadows from her whipping hair tower over the stage.

When Beckett arrived for her performance at the Playground Theater, she had no plan for what she would do; only that she would dance to The Cranberries’ “Zombie.”

“What feels really good right now is that I cannot think of most of the thoughts that went through my mind as I was performing,” said Beckett a few days later. “I just let my body do what it wanted.”

Beckett’s performance closed Monday night’s show “Resilient,” a monthly exhibition for survivors of sexual violence.

“The last thing I would want to do is to tell someone who’s experienced sexual violence what they need to make art about,” said Freddy-May AbiSamra, the show’s creator and co-producer. “Often times as survivors, we either are asked not to bring that part of ourselves into our artistic space, or we are asked to bring just that part of ourselves, to perform victimhood in a certain way.”

AbiSamra started the show in October 2017 to offer a creative outlet for survivors. Ranging from improv comedy to stand-up sets to Beckett’s freeform dance, “Resilient” is a collaboration of Chicago theater artists to get on stage and do whatever they want.

“Tonight is much bigger than what the quality of the performance is,” co-producer Kathleen Kinlin explained, “I think it’s something to say we are here, we love you, we understand your experience to an extent and we’re going to support whatever you’d like to do on stage tonight.”

Tickets for the show cost $10, and AbiSamra and Kinlin donate partial proceeds each month to Rape Victim Advocates, a nonprofit that offers free services to and advocates for sexual assault victims. AbiSamra explained that she chose Rape Victim Advocates after hearing about the positive interactions that other survivors had had with the group.

During the early stages of the show, the performers were mostly friends of AbiSamra and Kinlin, who went to college in Chicago together. But since then, AbiSamra has opened up submissions to the public and the show is growing, offering more performers the opportunity to share their stories.

At the close of the show, Beckett ended her dance by inviting members of the audience to get on stage with her.

“What I like about [‘Resilient’] is that the performers are bound together through a shared experience of trauma,” said Beckett. “But also that we are all here together in this room and we have all survived.”

For resources regarding rape crisis or sexual assault, contact Chicago Rape Crisis Hotline at 888-293-2080 or Rape Victim Advocates at 312-443-9603.

Photo at top: Rory Beckett performs an improv dance. (Juliette Rocheleau/MEDILL)