The month of May is a thrilling time for a college-bound high school senior. College decisions sweep through the latest senior class, graduations and summertime looms large, and campuses big and small begin preparations to welcome a fresh crop of new faces in the fall.
Yet there is also plenty of anxiety, especially for young women, who will be navigating large swaths of land at night, the unfamiliarity of new surroundings and concerns over countless news stories where females are at the forefront of danger at higher learning institutions.
While there lies a perception that minimal danger exists for young men at college, it’s the belief that women have to consider other factors. Make sure to tell roommates or friends of evening plans. Walk in a crowd, find the path with the best lighting. Don’t go out late for snacks at the nearest convenience store. Be aware of everything at a party.
And have mace at the ready.
That last bit seems like a practical and safe way to go. But when playwright Rachel Bublitz was doing research for her play “Ripped,” now running at San Francisco’s Z Space, she learned that carrying mace may not be the solution.
When her family accompanied her younger brother to orientation at UC Davis, they and other families met with the university’s head of security. A mother asked if her daughter should carry mace. And in a heavy dose of sobering reality, the head of security said it probably wouldn’t work because the assaulter would more than likely be a friend, not a stranger.
It’s clearly obvious to say rape is bad and consent is important. Those positions are black and white. But for Bublitz, who is looking for a more textured conversation, her play lives in a deep shade of grey.
“It’s something I’ve been thinking about for a while, writing a play about consent and rape in a way that’s not just saying these are bad things – I want to talk about it in a different and more complex way,” said Bublitz.
“Ripped” follows the stories of three young people at college and their experiences dealing with dating and consent. There is Lucy and her high school sweetheart Bradley. And then there is Jared, whom everyone loves, but also a young man who disrupts the ecosystem.
The play was first written in 2014, a few years before the #MeToo movement really took root. With a greater conversation taking place in the country at present in regards to consent and a stronger emphasis on listening to and believing survivors, Bublitz had a different experience with her female protagonist when she first introduced the play to audiences.
“In a lot of the early readings of the play, no audience members felt sympathy for Lucy,” said Bublitz. “And a lot of the responses sounded similar – she could have done this, she shouldn’t have done that, she shouldn’t have been drinking.”
In 2019 and beyond, Bublitz hopes for a refreshed viewing of Lucy’s arc, and a more critical understanding of consent and trauma.
“Maybe somebody would be on her side now and I do want it to be nuanced. One of the scary things about the play, because of that nuance, it leaves it open for people to walk away not siding with Lucy, but maybe now people can find something in her character to understand.”
That textured viewpoint is not just reserved for Lucy. Bublitz wanted to make sure her male characters were given the same opportunity not just for impartial viewing, but a greater understanding of a man’s role in the conversation.
“In order to write balanced characters, I needed to create people that everyone feels things for, even when they aren’t making great choices – characters that push the audience. I know it pushed me as a writer.”
While sex education focuses plenty on science and logistics, there is a huge piece missing when it comes to feelings and outcomes.
“Probably beyond the play, I think the male characters made me realize we have to teach more about consent and emotions. We need to let young men have space to have emotions. If we give space for young men to grieve in a positive way instead of just one way, it would be better for everyone on the planet.”
Bublitz is beyond ecstatic about sharing the world premiere of her play in the Bay Area, a place she called home for 11 years before moving to Utah for a professorship at Weber State University. But she is extremely aware that the material and ideas are explosive and will engender very strong feelings on many sides. All of it is a bit overwhelming.
And yet, as much now as ever, the ideas of the play need to be talked about.
“I wanted to really get into the idea of what consent is and what rape is and give space to the audience to really make a choice of what they think happened.”
WHAT TO KNOW IF YOU GO
Z Space presents “Ripped”
Written by Rachel Bublitz
Directed by Lisa Steindler
Featuring Krystle Piamonte, Edwin Jacobs and Daniel Chung
470 Florida Street, San Francisco, CA
Running time: 80 minutes, no intermission
Through June 15th
Tickets range from $15 – $30
For tickets, call (415) 626-0453 or visit www.zspace.org