Before each rehearsal of “Boy Gets Girl,” Amanda Anne Dayton takes a series of long, slow breaths.
With every breath, Dayton brings into herself the soul of her character, Theresa Bedell, a woman whose life is upended after she unwittingly becomes the object of a stalker’s perverse attention. With each inhale, she takes in Bedell’s rage, her disbelief, her shock and her fear; with every exhale, she leaves a little bit herself, a UCF graduate acting student, behind.
“There’s not a single woman that I know in my life who has never been the object of unwanted sexual advances from a man,” Dayton said. “I have very close, personal friends who have had very bad experiences with this kind of thing, and so to portray a story like that onstage is hard. I do my best to portray this part honestly for the people in my life who have had to experience this.”
“Boy Gets Girl” tells the story of a young woman whose life is upended when she meets a stalker on a blind date, and her cries for help go unanswered. Theatre UCF replaced “The Day Before Yesterday” with “Boy Gets Girl” after it discovered its playwright, Israel Horovitz, was accused by nine women of sexual assault. It plays at the UCF Blackbox theater on UCF’s main campus from Thursday to March 4.
“Boy Gets Girl” is more than just Bedell’s story — it’s the tale of thousands of people across the world who have chosen to speak out in the wake of the #MeToo movement against sexism and harassment experienced on a daily basis. The #MeToo movement was founded by Tarana Burke as a way to help survivors of sexual violence, particularly young women of color from low-income communities, find pathways to healing. It lets survivors know they’re not alone, its website states.
While Dayton must channel Bedell’s pain and rage night after night, her co-star, senior acting major Aaron Glogowski, must twist himself into a monster in his role of Bedell’s stalker, Tony.
“He starts out as sort of this sweet, charming guy, but there are little hints here and there that something is a little off,” Glogowski says. “Throughout the show, he starts to become more aggressive. He starts to send threatening phone calls, starts watching her house … the threats get worse and worse from there until Theresa has to leave the city she’s in.”
Glogowski said he based his performance on charismatic cult leaders, such as David Koresh, leader of the Branch Davidians of Waco, Texas. Koresh was thrust into the international spotlight during a 51-day standoff with the FBI in 1993 for running a deadly religious cult. For a man whose co-stars describe Glogowski as one of the nicest people in the program, it’s a jarring transformation.
“The difficult part is putting on the skin of this character; every night, when I get home, I have to take a shower because it feels so gross getting into his head,” Glogowski said.
For the rest of the male cast members, the show served as something of a learning experience, a way to come face-to-face with personal behaviors and prejudices that strike all too close to home.
UCF Senior acting major Orlando Lopez said playing Bedell’s co-worker, Mercer, made him realize the deep role culture plays in normalizing harassment.
“The No. 1 thing Mercer is struggling with is, though he knows these things are wrong — how a man looks at a woman, how a man thinks of a woman, how a man treats a woman — though he knows it’s wrong, he can’t help but do it,” Lopez said. “It’s a cultural thing; it’s how he was brought up, it was how all men were brought up, and it’s wrong. They think they’re doing right, but what they’re really doing is just harassing women.”
The active complacency of the men around Bedell and their refusal to acknowledge her cries for help eventually force her out of the city. Bedell’s boss, Howard — played by UCF senior musical theater major Joseph Herr — typifies the kind of person who struggles to hear Bedell.
“He’s a little conservative, a little stuck in his ways, especially when it comes to women,” Herr said. “I don’t think, at the beginning of the play, that he necessarily respects women as much as he should; he’s stuck in these very traditional ways of thinking. But once he sees what’s actually happening, seeing a woman being treated this way really changes the way he sees women and his own role in the world.”
Herr said he hopes audiences will realize that, like his character, they may be willfully blind to the suffering around them.
Due to the play’s sensitive subject matter, a number of UCF Victim Services advocates will be present in the theatre lobby to aid anyone who might be triggered during the production. Victim Services represents the school’s first line of aid for victims of sexual assault and are available at all hours through a confidential phone or text service.
“We’ll be there for students or staff in any way they need,” Cotton said. “If anyone is going through this, we can go to those meetings with them, we can go to the police with them. They will never have to walk any of those steps by themselves.”
Students attending public educational institutions have a unique resource in the fight against sexual violence: Title IX. This federal legislation, originally designed to ensure equal access to education, regardless of sex or gender, has expanded to include guidelines related to sexual violence as part of the U.S. Department of Education’s Dear Colleague Letter published on April 4, 2011. All public universities must now host a Title IX coordinator.
Dawn Welkie, UCF’s Title IX coordinator, said her office is primarily concerned with ensuring that every student has unfettered access to education, whether that’s by separating a victim from their accused abuser or engaging in a full investigation.
“They may want to come in and just switch their work assignments, switch their class, switch their room or their housing assignment,” Welkie said. “We’re willing to do that if they don’t want a full investigation.”
The significance of the #MeToo movement was not lost on the faculty of Theatre UCF.
“We just felt that we needed to make a clear statement of support for those who were caught up in or those who have suffered as a result of what we’re discovering to be a really toxic culture,”Cynthia White, the play’s director, said. “It wasn’t easy to switch shows like this, but I’m incredibly impressed by how everyone — students, designers, stage crew — rose to the occasion.”