Carolyn Fagan is a writer. After spending a life in Rhode...
The Asheville Fringe Arts Festival is starting on Thursday! You better be ready, because we are giving away two tickets to an incredible show.
Unredeemable, by Jim Sea, debuts at Magnetic 375 on Thursday, 1/26 at 7pm and Saturday, 1/28 at 7pm. You can win tickets by commenting on our Facebook Post with the link to this interview, and we'll announce a winner on Thursday morning at 9.
In his solo show, Jim Sea examines the roles of three characters: a therapist, a bureaucrat, and a sexual offender, and how the current system of response to sexual assault is failing everyone. Not only does Jim show what isn't working, but he has a plan for what might.
What can we expect from your show? What’s the main message you’re hoping people take away?
The topic is out there—not a lot of people want to deal with it, and they have strong emotions about it. For the most part, I hope that people are moved. The main message I want them to take away is that sexual assault is a problem here in the US and if we really want to put a stop to it, I think we need to be proactive more than we need to be reactive. When you look at it, people who have been abused, children who have been abused, I read somewhere that it takes 21 years for them to deal with it. That’s a long time. If we can prevent it, I think that would be a greater accomplishment.
That’s a crazy number. Did you learn anything else that really surprised you?
There’s a number of things. The prevalence of partner violence, how often that happens. The sheer volume of assaults in any given year. The increase in the number of offenders in the registry from 2002 to 2016, from what I’ve seen, looks like 70%. The biggest surprise to me was that an African American woman, in the late 19th century by the name of Ida B. Wells, was the first organizer of victims’ assistance groups. She did it in response to slave masters raping.
Does the show deal with intersectionality of race at all?
It doesn’t. When we started working on this, Christine McHugh and Vivian Nesbitt, my director and producer, we started working on this and there’s just so many different avenues to pursue, things that need to be addressed, we had to hone it down a little bit. Perhaps at a later show, a later version, would deal with that. It would be nice, ideally, to have a TV show, a series, that would deal with this. That way we could address all these other issues as well. So this solo show is mainly to bring attention to the problem, get people to start thinking about it, maybe to create some support for it.
How did you end up choosing the three roles you chose?
Well the three roles, these present a different perspective. The bureaucrat is often driven by statistics. They're politicians with numbers, and they want to get those numbers down, they’ll do anything to decrease those numbers—that’s what the focus is on. So they look at things like incarceration, registration. Therapists truly want to help those with dysfunction, they also want to help the victim, so they focus on repairing the damage and behavior and trying to find ways to change the thinking of the defender to a point where they're able to enter society and monitor, control the urges. The defender is often a product of either sexual abuse themself or just bad parenting. Sometimes it's psychopathic, but more often it's sociopathic. And as a result finds himself a social outcast and often the victim of vigilantism. From what I've been able to ascertain with a number of those I've met is they want to be healed. That’s why I chose those three. Part of being the defender is you have a mentality [about them], to a large part, that these guys are monsters—just lock them away and not deal with them. But when you look at the registry and see in 2002 about 500,000 on it and as of 2016 there’s over 850,000, it's not working to just lock them up and put them on the registry, we have to deal with the issue. Part of the way to deal with it is to humanize them in some way so that we can look at what’s going on and help them deal with that behavior.
As far as the victim is concerned, the decision to exclude the victim was very much a conscious one on my part. When it comes to sexual assault there’s a great deal of focused attention on resources for victims' assistance and there’s very little I have found on prevention. You think about the national registry, you think about the national violence hotlines you have, but there isn’t anything for people having trouble with their sexuality where they can call a national number when they are in danger of hurting others and say, “I’m thinking about doing this BUT I don’t want to,” “I’m having problems.” I want to help bring about a world where any woman can go anywhere anytime without fear. As long as sexual assault remains as prevalent as it is, I don't see that happening. So, I would like, if it's possible, to focus on potential abuses before they hurt someone and that way prevent someone from ever becoming a victim.
Where else has the Unredeemable been shown, and to where are you next headed?
I just finished a show at the Tucson Fringe Festival. Asheville’s next. I applied to Cincinnatti—that’s in February. I’d like to take it across the US, maybe Canada this summer, they have a Fringe association up there. Just to start building support for it. Ideally, I would like to see if we could create a national hotline where people with sexual dysfunction can call and get help. That’s my ultimate goal, initially.
Can you elaborate on the hotline?
By taking the show on the road and meeting with people in different cities, I hope to make connections with therapists that are willing and sympathetic to this helpline, maybe even willing to help somehow. I haven’t, as of yet, contacted the folks at the National Suicide Hotline, but I was thinking of using that as a model. And then just garnering support, see if i can get someone to help manage and fund it. Kind of a grassroots type of thing at the moment.
How are you planning to engage people that really don’t want to talk about this topic?
I don’t know if I can really get them to look at it.… though in New York, there were a couple of women my director convinced to come to the show who afterwards said "You know what? Before the show, when you told me it was about, I thought 'There’s no way, you just need to lock these guys up.' But, after seeing the show, now I’m open to some other possibilities with these issues." So I think seeing the show might be helpful. But getting people in the seats who don’t want to deal with the topic, that’s a little bit of a challenge. Perhaps my director did by inviting them and saying, “You really have to see this.” Because once you see it, it’s intense, it’s powerful. I think a lot of people are moved by it. In a large part, it’s an issue of awareness. The individual factors that lead to sexual assault are poor coping skills, low self esteem, and a preoccupation with sex. How many people do you know with those characteristics? So, I’m thinking we have to make it a priority to sniff out potential problems before they become real ones. That’s the thing, when you go into the doctor and they ask you “Do you drink? Do you feel safe at home? Are you afraid of being harmed?” I’m thinking, how difficult would it be to include questions like “Has anyone touched you inappropriately? Do you feel obligated to have sex with your partner? Do you ever refuse to have sex and is it okay with your partner if you're not in the mood or do they punish you?” How hard would it be to ask those questions in a doctor’s office, in school, in a therapist’s office—in those situations where we come into contact with someone professional. That might get us on the track.