Monday, September 6, 2010

How I Learned to Drive- Journal #1

I love my real niece, in a way that isn't described in this play. I have been cast as Uncle Peck in the pulitzer prize winning play by Paula Vogel, How I Learned to Drive. In my 24 years on stage, this is probably the toughest character I've played with "Academy Award winning" traits. You know: drunk, gay, handicapped, mental, dying, and in this case, a pedophile.
My first time back on the stage in awhile has its challenges including acceptance, personal morality, and line memorization. Peck is the uncle to Lil Bit who ranges from the ages of 11-18 when he has contact with her. "Contact". I could have taken the easy road and played the idea of being a pedophile. I could have played him creepy. The play is written as if the actor who plays Peck could also be cast as Atticus Finch. Well, I was Boo Radley in school, so what does that mean? Peck is honestly a nice guy, he's the tragic hero. So I could play it easy and just be the nice guy through the whole show and maybe it'll work. But I'm a 34 year old grad student. Here is an opportunity that I could sink my teeth into something that I haven't had a chance to do before.
I don't believe in Method acting so I'm not going out and molesting kids to see what it feels like inside. Although, there are a lot of 18 year olds walking around this campus who look 13. I decided to start in the library and see what I could find. Well, what I found was that if you google "psyche of a pedophile" in the library you instantly become aware of everyone who is sitting behind you. You also become aware of the campus police who might come tackling me when my computer is red flagged. Fortunately what I found on a lot of psychology websites is exactly how Peck is written: Nice, unassuming, friend to all, no criminal record, trusting, trustworthy, father figure, caring. Unfortunately these are the traits for pedophiles. My concern instantly went to my friends who are parents, my brother, and my future self as a dad. Pedophiles can be lost in the community in such places as schools, community centers, and as lifeguards. They can be 19 years old up to 90 years old. They are not obvious to the eye. We make jokes about the child molesting mustache, the clown suits, and creepy behavior, but the traits have to be looked into a lot closer.
A lot of us do theater to teach. To hold up a mirror to society. To take the chaos in the world and try to make sense of it. Some of us do it because we want fancy clothes. This show respects the former. If this play can help 1 parent look at the traits of this disorder in a different way, I've done my job.
These are some of the things I've learned. Most molestation cases come from within the family. Next, they come from family friends or neighbors. Very few child molestation cases come from the weird guy in the bushes. That's why this play is so powerful. Uncle Peck is trusted by Lil Bit, his family, and all the neighbors. Vogel has written it so well that she puts those traits out throughout the whole show. 1) They have an easier time talking to kids than they do adults. 2) In most cases, they were molested as children. 3) They use a behavior known as grooming to zero in on their obsession. Trust is the major term here. They get the child to trust them in all aspects. My director used the comparison to training a horse. Every time they do something good they get a carrot and get punished whenever they do something bad. Pretty soon, they will do whatever you ask them to do, because they know the consequences for all actions. 4) There is a power that pedophiles feel. For whatever reason, they feel powerless in the world. Children are easy to take control over so that is who they zero in on. 5) Children from broken homes and awful situations are easy to groom because the pedophile can make them feel beautiful and cared for more than anyone else can.
The two shows I watched while researching this role was Oprah's story when she interviewed 4 pedophiles and heard there whole story. If any of this is interesting to you and want to protect your children even more, please watch this. The other has been my all time favorite show: To Catch A predator. Up until now I watched this show with laughter because the guys were so stupid. When Chris Hansen would ask them questions, they all tried to lie the exact same way. It's like when I lied to my parents when I was in high school and my dad freaked out because he said "that's the exact same lie I used when I was in school!" I think these two shows are different because the MSNBC show really just touches the surface but shows the kind of terror that's out there, and all of these people find each other on line. The Oprah show hits the stereotypical traits I explained earlier. Hearing these guys' stories, I started to feel bad for their mental health problems. And then that's when this play made sense to me. Peck is not evil. I pray that the audience will feel bad for me at the end. That will make the play that more powerful.
Pedophiles don't feel they're doing anything wrong. They know it's legally wrong, but they justify every single aspect of their behavior."If she/he isn't being physically harmed, what's wrong with that?" "She/he isnt loved by anyone else" "If they didn't wear those clothes they did, I wouldn't be turned on". Holy crap!! It's a mental illness.
It's very scary taking this journey into the role of Uncle Peck. Theater is supposed to resonate inside of you. I have given up control and let Peck resonate inside of me, and with the advice of a couple faculty members, always be aware you're just doing a show and leave it on the stage when you go. Well I wasn't planning on doing it any other way, but thanks for scaring the hell out me!
This is journal #1 about the prep work that went into it, we have almost 2 weeks of rehearsal down and 24 days left. I have a million more lines to learn, so I should probably be getting on that now.

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