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The Suburbanite
  • Kent-Stark to perform “Voices From Hurt Street”

  • “Voices From Hurt Street,” premiering tonight at Kent State University at Stark, was inspired by a hurtful experience suffered by a theater student.

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  • “Voices From Hurt Street,” premiering tonight at Kent State University at Stark, was inspired by a hurtful experience suffered by a theater student.
    “I had a play in rehearsal last spring, and one of the people involved in the show had a bit of a meltdown,” said Brian Newberg, professor of theater at Kent Stark and the director of “Hurt Street.” “We found she’d been a victim of sexual harassment.”
    While talking with some of his theater students in the aftermath of what happened, Newberg discovered many of them had first-hand experiences with bullying, sexual abuse, domestic violence and other forms of social injustice.
    Moved by their stories, he floated the idea of building a theater project around them. “The looks on the students’ faces told me this was the right idea,” he said. “It was one of those ‘ta-da’ moments.’”
    Newberg and Robert Millner, a creative-writing professor at Kent Stark, launched a course for Fall 2012 titled “Devising Theater: Bullying and Social Injustice,” in which students would create a play from scratch.
    “Voices From Hurt Street,” the resulting production is “a little intense,” said Stephen Ostertag, a member of the show’s writing team. “It’s monologues, poetry pieces, dialogue scenes. It’s very experimental and different, very frank and honest, with a lot of ideas being thrown around.”
    Magan McLaughlin, a writer, performer and costumer for “Hurt Street,” said, “It’s very in-your-face. Sometimes I get scared and I think about the shock value, but I really, really trust the project. And I think about these things that so many people have had to deal with.”
    One of McLaughlin’s pieces in “Hurt Street” was inspired by her visit with a Holocaust survivor. “It’s like slam poetry,” she said. “Taking these social norms and pushing them to a hyper-reality.”
    In another scene, she plays a “comfort woman,” or sex slave, in the 1940s in the Phillipines who has been raped by seven men.
    Ostertag’s personal experience with bullying inspired one of the scenes he wrote. “A kid is suffering from being bullied and the adult is blaming the kid. That is something I’ve encountered in my life,” he said. “If you’re in a position where you can help someone who is being bullied and you don’t, that makes you a bully, too.”
    The writing process proved cathartic. “It has been very healing to get those things out of my system,” Ostertag said. “It has helped me to let go of things from my past.”
    Other sequences focus on bullying in schools, abuse of the elderly, domestic violence and the AIDS epidemic. There is a humorous scene where an offensive word defends itself after being twisted into something negative. In all, there are 32 pieces from 16 writers.
    Page 2 of 2 - In terms of presentation, “Hurt Street” is “a bare-stage show, with lots of intricate lighting,” Ostertag said. “It’s focused on the ideas and the stories.”
    “We’re using all parts of the stage and the entire auditorium,” Newberg said. “We have a couple of live musicians who come in and out.”
    “We cover a number of hot-button issues,” Newberg said. “There have been a lot of revisions, but nothing’s been censored because it’s too controversial. Some of these pieces I would call real ‘gut’ pieces. I’m proud of what they’ve written. It’s been a year-long journey, and it’s become a campus-wide project.”

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