A familiar face of rape

THERE’S a new play coming to Canberra and it has a singularly familiar ring to it, especially if you’re familiar with “Reclaim the Night” vigils or the more recent ADFA scandals.

Playwright Helen Machalias… hers not a play of reconciliation, but rather one designed to get the public talking.

Playwright Helen Machalias… hers not a play of reconciliation, but rather one designed to get the public talking.

“Is this specifically a Canberra play?” I ask writer and Arts NSW officer, Helen Machalias. After all, it’s set in a fictitious “prestigious” university college in the ACT.

It turns out that Machalias has brought her experiences of several campuses to her first full-length play, “In Loco Parentis”, soon to be seen as part of The Street Theatre’s “Made in Canberra” program.

Raised in Armidale, she’s studied at the University of New England, the University of Sydney and Deakin University. She even spent a short time at UC, so she knows a lot about how dangerous campuses have become for young people.

“Actually,” Machalias admits, “the idea was originally inspired by an incident at a Sydney Uni College when ‘pro-rape’ comments were posted on Facebook.” Later, in Canberra, she found that it was a huge issue here, too.

The “it” we are talking about – Machalias makes no bones about it – is rape, however much we might like to package it as “harassment”.

And “in loco parentis”? Isn’t that the term used to indicate pastoral care in schools among colleges and universities?

She’s writing about the tolerance of sexual assault on our campuses by those placed in loco parentis, in the place of a parent, safeguarding young students.

Hannah Wood, who plays Katy, and Dylan Ven Der Berg, who plays Mitch in “In Loco Parentis”. Photo by Lorna Sim

Hannah Wood, who plays Katy, and Dylan Ven Der Berg, who plays Mitch in “In Loco Parentis”. Photo by Lorna Sim

“Colleges have self-sufficient cultures”, she says, “often with a sense of entitlement among students in exclusive colleges, so they often deny knowledge of acts of violence, with people in power saying ‘we have dealt with this’.”

Briefly, her play, featuring four actors and a “chorus” of college students, looks at this issue through the eyes of Katy, a senior college resident who enjoys a close relationship with the president Mitch. That relationship is shattered when she accuses him of raping a fresher, and the whole university community becomes implicated. David Mamet’s “Oleanna” or Helen Garner’s “The First Stone” come to mind.

Sure, Machalias has read other such works, but they are more genteel than her play, which was written, workshopped and rehearsed in Canberra as part of The Street Theatre’s “The Hive” project, which she joined in 2010.

Hers is not a play of reconciliation, but rather one designed to get the public talking. “It’s more a provocation”, she says.

“In Loco Parentis”, at The Street Theatre, October 25-November 2, bookings to 6247 1223 or thestreet.org.au

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