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Prof’s new theatre piece tackles domestic violence abroad

February 24, 2014 at 6:40 pm

Plan B photo 

This week, Beloit College’s theatre department will debut its first show of the new year with Plan B, stories compiled and directed by Amy Sarno, associate professor of theatre arts.

Plan B tells the true stories of six American expats living in Italy who find themselves in--and then escape from--violent relationships.

“It’s a topic you don’t ever think about,” says Sarno. “We don’t often think about what happens to women who are overseas and suffering from domestic abuse, especially with Italy. You think of Italy and people are immediately like ‘oh you’re going to fall in love’ or something. It’s this romantic idea we have.”

In Italy, and in many other countries across the world, the issue of violence against women is becoming more frequently discussed. The United Nations is talking about prevention programs. According to Sarno’s research, Italy stands out because between 2000-2012 the rate of femicide has grown in surprising ways.

“It really has been on the increase, so because of that a lot of feminist organizations in Italy have been working hard to get dialogue going across the country,” she says.    

Sarno notes that there have been a steady amount of legal changes in the Italian system. For example, it wasn’t until 2006 that there were any stalking laws on the books. Despite this progress, femicide is still an outstanding issue. “Every day I would open the newspaper and there would be some gruesome story about another woman killed,” says Sarno, referring to her time in Italy on sabbatical. “These are really aggressive, angry crimes that are happening.”

As a survivor herself and after working with the Beloit Domestic Violence Center for the last 10 years, Sarno has met many women who are not American and have given their insights on what they have to deal with in regards to decision-making and cultural boundaries they face.

“We, as Americans, often take for granted our privileges, and we often don’t realize what happens overseas or to fellow Americans living overseas,” she says.

Through her research, Sarno stumbled across an organization called the Americans Overseas Domestic Violence Center, which is a nonprofit organization out of Portland, Ore. The AODVC provides resettlement assistance, legal assistance, and a variety of other resources to help women who find themselves in violent situations.

“What’s interesting is that the AODVC was trying to create a relationship with Italy because there is a significant expat community in Florence,” she says. “They felt that Italy would be the best place for me to create this story.”

Sarno lived in Florence during her sabbatical in the fall of 2013. While there, she compiled the stories she later used for the script of Plan B by conducting interviews.

“I interviewed six survivors, several psychologists, psychiatrists, doctors, attorneys…It is all pretty much verbatim,” she says. “Overall, these are stories that actually happened and they are told in a way that they were told to me. The survivors I’ve worked with have all seen the reading, have read the script on several occasions, and given their input.”

While Plan B does address the usual questions domestic violence spurs--why does she stay, does she have low self-esteem, what happens to the women who get out of those situations, etc.--Sarno adds that her play covers many other issues that domestic violence can revolve around: “It’s about family dynamics, and it’s about intercultural relationships.”

The play debuts Thursday (Feb. 27) and runs daily through (Sunday) March 2. Performances are at 8 p.m., with a 2 p.m. matinée on Saturday and Sunday in the Kresge Theatre in the Neese Theatre Complex.

Admission is $8.50, $5 for seniors, and $4 for students; tickets are available at the box office an hour before the show, or by calling the box office at ext. 2755 Monday through Friday, between 12:30 p.m. and 5 p.m.