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‘Sacred Trauma’ Humanizes Sexual Assault Through Creativity

Many students studying in the Schreyer Honors College can’t wait to finish their senior theses and tuck them away in the library, where they’ll likely never be seen again. But Ellis Stump had different plans.

Studying English and women’s studies, Stump created her thesis in the format of a two-act play, based on personal experience, thorough psychological research, and direct quotes from interviews with survivors of sexual and partner violence. Sacred Trauma will hit the stage at 8 p.m. Saturday, April 7 in Carnegie Cinema to headline the Transformational Arts Showcase.

“I have always found that people pay attention more when they’re laughing, so I started experimenting with the idea of addressing a serious, kind of un-talked about subject from a unique, bold angle,” Stump said. “I love writing and comedy, and I care about social issues, specifically sexual assault, so I decided to go from there.”

The play follows student Elaine as a women’s studies assignment inspires a journey back through her transformative years. The “bizarre characters and situations” lead up to a case of sexual assault during Elaine’s first year at college, after which she “embraces travel, forms allies, and learns how to speak, share, empower, and also rock a leather jacket.”

Stump set out to select her cast a few months ago, and received overwhelming interest in the performance. In addition to the typical theatrical audition, Stump and her assistant directors, Katie Abramowitz and Elijah Armstrong, interviewed those auditioning about what they’re passionate about. Abramowitz said the trio originally planned for a smaller cast, but were so impressed they decided to expand so more of the talented people they met could be involved.

Those who auditioned mostly found out about the show through a Facebook post, but all decided they wanted to be a part of the project for different reasons. Jarrett Bordo plays the professor in Sacred Trauma and said the biggest reason he wanted to get involved was for the incredible balance between serious and humorous throughout the play, allowing the audience to laugh between the serious moments. “Personally, this play has a profound impact on me because it is the first time that I have been so deeply exposed to a discussion about sexual assault,” he said.

Deniz Himmetoglu, who plays Jack, said he was inspired by the project’s purpose of raising awareness and showing compassion. 

[Stump] gave me the feeling that I was doing justice to the story she put into words,” Himmetoglu said. “There’s something beautiful about bringing a character to life in front of its creator.”

“When I read about the show, I knew I wanted to audition because, as a survivor of sexual assault myself, the subject meant a lot to me and I wanted to be a part of Ellis’ story,” said Jessie Demmert, who plays Elaine. “Personally, this show has meant a lot to me. It has helped me come to terms with and face my own past of sexual assault.”

The cast has performed the two-act play only once previously for an audience, last month at the State Theatre.

“Every person in the theatre, both onstage and off, was captivated, caring, and involved, and the energy was really inspiring and supportive,” Stump said. “This performance will feature an entirely new surprise component, a video put together on-site before the show by Assistant Director Elijah, making the play a truly collaborative art piece.”

Stump and local musician Jonathan Bojan have been discussing the idea of the Transformational Arts Showcase since last fall, and it’s finally becoming a reality, including visual arts, photographers, poets, comedians, actors, and documentarists. The goal of the show is to prove the “healing, overcoming power” of art. Armstrong said the team wants to get people directly involved in the art as much as possible, including interviewing for a video that will be played during Sacred Trauma.

“Sexual assault is framed in films and shows as life-destroying, dark, and taboo, but meanwhile there are survivors strutting all over campus and the world, healing from their experiences and living their lives and making change,” Stump said. “Sacred Trauma is dedicated to them.”

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About the Author

Elissa Hill

Elissa was the managing editor of Onward State from 2017-2019. She is from Punxsutawney, PA [insert corny Bill Murray joke here] and considers herself an expert on all things ice cream. Follow her on Twitter (@ElissaKHill) for more corny jokes.

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