Sex Signals’ improv show focusing on bystander intervention has seen success on college campuses—and is now being adopted by the military as well.
By EMMETT RENSIN
Something you don’t hear too often in the middle of an improv set: “Okay, and for the next scene, my opening line will be ‘I really didn’t rape that girl’.”
That’s the moment when Sex Signals, one of the country’s fastest growing sexual assault prevention programs, stops being so funny. Employees of the company behind the show, Catharsis Productions, call it the “rape bomb.”
The first half is funnier.
A girl sits at a table. She says she’s had a really bad day. “I just want to be left alone.” But a guy notices her and wants to talk. He gets nervous, doesn’t know what to say. So he asks the audience for a pickup line. “The one we get most often,” say Brea Hayes, a program specialist and theatrical director with Catharsis, “is ‘How much does a polar bear weigh? Enough to break the ice.’”
They begin a conversation, breaking off for one or the other to face the audience and share their character’s feelings. The girl: “That was weird, but this guy is cute, I want to get to know him, should I be really flirty or should I be like a hard-ass?”
The guy: “She seems to really like me, should I show her my sensitive side or my tough guy side?”
“They try on these different stereotypes,” says Brea. “The takeaway is that when we put these faces on, nothing is ever going to work out.”
And sometimes it really goes wrong: They try out various scenarios, which are progressively more ridiculous until it’s obvious something’s not right. The audience has been holding up their “Stop” cards—big red road signs handed out before the show that they’ve been told to deploy when the action crosses a line. Finally, the guy says, “I have an idea for another improv. My opening line will be, ‘I really didn’t rape that girl.’”