The HBO hit series "Game of Thrones" has spurred discussion and controversy for its use of rape as a plot device. Over the course of the last six seasons, the show has included rape 50 times, according to one analysis. "Game of Thrones" drew the most criticism during the sixth season, in which one of the leading heroines is raped on her wedding night, while a lackey looks on in horror.
Hillary Sea Bard, the director of the upcoming production SLUT—The Play, says she watched the show for the first time to better understand a reference to it in the script.
"To me, being in this process right now, seeing the plot device of rape on 'Game of Thrones' and other media, more than anything it just shows that that's a representation of our culture," Bard says. "Plot device, sure, but part of our culture. Art is always a representation of what's around us."
So while the frequency of sexual assaults as a plot device on TV shows might be disturbing, it's much more distressing that in real life, one in four women in the United States have been raped during their lifetime according to the Department of Justice. And yet, our culture continues to view victims' claims with suspicion. In SLUT, a teenage girl delivers testimony against her rapist while family, friends and acquaintances talk about whether they believe her. Some of the characters defend the victim, while others say she was a promiscuous girl just "asking" to be assaulted after a drunken incident. The one-act play was developed at New York-based youth theater program The Arts Effect and written by its artistic director, Katie Cappiello. The Univeristy of Montana's Women's, Gender and Sexuality Studies Program and Student Advocacy Resource Council teamed up to bring the production to Missoula, with funding from a grant through the Centers for Disease Control.
SLUT presents several challenges, including a startling, provocative title. It's also a dual-dialogue play, which means that throughout the entire production one character will perform as the rape victim delivering her version of events, while elsewhere on stage other characters react to her story.
"It pulls your heartstrings in two different ways," Bard says. "You get to see and connect to two different opinions at once. And it will keep the audience alert and listening and on the edge of their seat and wanting to know more."
Bard, who has a master's in directing from the UM, says it made sense to cast local high school students to portray teenage characters. She gives them credit for taking on a "really heavy, hard play to perform."
Rehearsing the drama has also prompted some soul searching and realizations for its cast and director.
"Like, 'Oh, maybe I have experienced sexual aggression and I haven't been aware of it because I live in a society that makes it seem like a cultural norm,'" Bard says. "For me, a lot of things have resurfaced that happened in my past that I had brushed off."
Bard hopes the community—and young men and boys in particular—will bring an open mind to the play.
"Oh, rape makes you uncomfortable? Good. It should," Bard says. "It should make you uncomfortable. So let's make sure it stays uncomfortable, and let's talk about it."
SLUT—The Play shows at the Crystal Fri., Oct. 9–Sat., Oct. 10 and Fri., Oct. 16–Sat., Oct. 17, at 7:30 PM nightly with a 2 PM matinee Sun., Oct. 18. Free. Reservations can be made at tinyurl.com/SlutThePlayTickets.