Outside the Wire is all about challenging the audience.
“It’s about shared discomfort … if you want to leave the room when you hear an actor talk about suffering, let’s talk about how hard it is to stay in the room in the presence of real suffering,” said Bryan Doerries, artistic director and co-founder of the social impact group.
Outside the Wire will stage a table reading of excerpts from the play “Tape” on Wednesday evening at the University of Pittsburgh’s Charity Randall Theater. It’s a free event at 7 o’clock.
This is the first time Stephen Belber’s piece about three friends recalling what might have been a sexual assault a decade earlier will be performed in a campus setting.
Following the performance, there will be a brief presentation from diverse groups in education and health fields, including Pittsburgh Action Against Rape and a university Title IX representative. Then the the floor is open to audience members as a town hall facilitated by Mr. Doerries.
If this sounds dry or academic, know these events are anything but. Mr. Doerries is a classicist who turned to ancient dramatic texts after the traumatic death of his girlfriend in 2003. He said that in his almost manic need to talk about the experience, he found new insights into the works of authors such as Aeschylus, Sophocles and Shakespeare.
He also discovered that they were surprisingly effective in helping others talk about their pain, be it from addiction, post-traumatic stress disorder, rape culture or other maladies of the human condition.
Mr. Doerries enlists more than 200 actors — some well-known, some not — who cross the globe, bringing these therapeutic readings to military bases and campuses. Last week featured events in Ferguson, Mo., at the high school of Michael Brown, the 18-year-old black man who was fatally shot in 2014 by a white police officer, and a church there.
Mr. Doerries also founded “Theater of War,” which specifically addresses challenges facing those in the military. Other subjects for OTW include end-of-life issues.
“It’s just exciting that we can utilize art to help people” said Kimberly Parker Green.
Ms. Parker Green, who is the Chosky teaching artist-in-residence at Pitt, will perform one of the roles in “Tape,” along with her husband, Brendan Griffin — a Broadway actor and veteran of OTW events — and Mr. Belber.
“Tape” is making its campus debut after eliciting discussion in military settings.
“We first did the project in a tent for 150 soldiers about 10 kilometers [6.2 miles] from the Iraq border in Kuwait,” Mr. Doerries said. “It was an infantry unit and during the discussion that followed, there were five men and five women soldiers who raised their hands and told their stories about being sexually assaulted.”
Presenting “Tape” at Pitt, Ms. Parker Green said, “does not seem to require a tremendous shift in mindset. “
To be sure, the town hall discussions take place in a “safe space,” but Mr. Doerries said that does not jibe with the current campus definition.
“To be really candid, I never really wanted to be on the freshman orientation circuit. Not my M.O. Even though we use words like ‘safe space,’ the stuff we do doesn’t have a learning objective.
“We are not coming to teach. If anything, we are coming to complicate, and create a space where people talk about why it’s so complicated, rather than shout at each other from some ideologically binary position.”
“We are really eager to be invited to this dialogue,” said Ms. Parker Green.
She added she hopes the audience will be diverse, including not just women’s groups, for example, but also the Greek community.
Mr. Doerries, who is based in New York City, was recently headed to Charlottesville, Va., for an event, followed by three in Ferguson several days later. He said that although there are several other facilitators, he is still on-site for about 90 percent of OTW’s programs.
The project has been in the media spotlight of late. A Sept. 12 feature in The New Yorker magazine was followed by an interview with NPR’s “All Things Considered.”
Mr. Doerries said the prospect of finding joy and relief through readings of tragedy sounds counterintuative, yet “it’s not designed to send us home to wallow in our own lack of agency; it’s to wake us up and also bring us together.”
Maria Sciullo: email@example.com or 412-263-1478 or @MariaSciulloPG.