To those who may have demured from attending the Homer production of the David Holthouse/UAA performance of his courageous work, Stalking the Bogeyman, out of fear that the dark and uncomfortable subject of childhood sexual abuse would prove overwhelmingly disturbing, here are my own thoughts after attending the performance last night.
Both the play and the article from which the work developed into a dramatic production deal most explicitly with David’s 30-year struggle to cope with the resentment, fear and hatred which the long held secret of the violation held upon him and to explore aloud its impact upon his life. David’s own psychological and spiritual maturity eventually allowed him to release himself from the power which the long gone perpetrator of the violence held over his imagination and spiritual development, and this, it seems to me, is the central message of his writing.
The moment in which David acknowledges that even the physical destruction and death which he has wished to visit upon his violator would not lead to healing his own wounds is, for me, the most crucial turning point of this work. I hope that future productions will succeed in emphasizing even more this aspect of his own developing consciousness. Revenge, he seems to want to tell us, is not, after all, as sweet as it is held out to be; it may bring surcease of abuse, but will not bring healing, in the final analysis. This is David’s greatest intuition.
One in four female children and one in six male children have or will have experienced (according to the statistics provided in the theater program) some form of sexual abuse by the age of 18. The abuse may take many forms, from the kind of out-and-out violent rape of David’s experience, to more subtle, initially less terrifying forms of grooming and occult psychological manipulation employed by those we have come to identify as sexual predators, whatever form their final gratification may take.
“Who would I be if this had not happened to me?” is one of the questions which David asks himself throughout his own journey, and one which he ponders as he decides to find a way to define what has happened to himself and to his family and give it meaning for his own growth as a human being. The loss of trust and of our sense of safety create severe grief issues in most of us, and, because we are social beings, complicate life relationships in many ways.
The other question which remains unresolved in David’s case, we discover, is that of the responsibility of the victim of abuse to potential future or other victims of the predator who has impacted their own lives. When we have stalked down the bogeyman and confronted him with his crime against us, what then? Are we, and he, free to get on with our lives? Good question.
The production touring Alaska now, and scheduled to go outside our state and even nation in the coming months, wants to exercise an educational role in raising awareness of the signs of possible abuse and even provide a forum for opening up discussion on personal experience of abuse among the audience with the provision of ‘onsite advocates’ at the performances. While I wholeheartedly applaud the intention and sincerity of this mission, and of the troupe which so ably presented the David Holthouse story to us, I do have to say this: the impact of the work of art in and of itself would be valid and possibly less threatening to some without the explicit purposefulness of this part of the venture.
Let us always remain attentive to the power of the work itself to change lives and alter preconceptions, to open long closed doors and encourage growth, which has ever been the valid role of theatre and others arts in our human journey through life. Let us never lose sight of the restorative power of speaking the truthful words which connect us to one another and to our many shared experiences of loss and grief. This awareness is one of the distinctions to be drawn between theatre as entertainment and theatre as may we say it aloud? Art. ‘Bogeyman’ truly strikes me as a Work of Art in Progress, a title we may all give to our own lives, offered the opportunity to dwell upon this earth. I can’t wait to see the final polished product, and thank Pier One for once again providing our town with an opportunity to explore together through theatre the multidimensions of our own excruciating humanity.
Creative endeavor is still the best tool I can think of for building the kind of world in which I aspire to live. Don’t ever let us cheat ourselves out of participation in the creative life of our community, no matter how challenging it may seem at the time.
Carol R. Dee