New cadets learn about 'Sex Signals'

  • Published
  • By David Edwards
  • Academy Spirit staff writer
Fourth-class cadets might have felt a little higher on the Academy totem pole for an hour and a quarter the evening of Aug. 13.

The Class of 2014 attended the "Sex Signals" theatrical presentation, which is part of the Academy's training to raise awareness about sexual assault.

It cast an examining eye on the often-confusing gray area surrounding rape. The doolies weren't passive spectators, either. Their participation was requested at the outset.

"And we know you're not asked your opinion very often around here, are you?" Teresa Beasley, the Academy's sexual assault response coordinator, said in her introduction.

In general, the doolies showed enthusiasm and a willingness to follow the prompting of performers Amber Kelly and Chris Sanders.

"Sex Signals" is unabashedly realistic in its dialogue, and the R-rated humor produced the intended effect on the audience.

"Think of the words we use to describe having sex: screw, nail, hammer, pound," Ms. Kelly said. "Are we having sex in Home Depot?"

"You can do it. We're here to help." Mr. Sanders responded, parroting the hardware chain's slogan.

Doolies were also asked for pickup lines that the performers could use to begin sketches. The number of hands raised showed that the cadets were more than willing to oblige.

The theatrics also examined stereotypes about men and women, showing how early and how easily misunderstandings can crop up when people try to hook up. Mr. Sanders' caricature of the stereotypical guy -- interested only in football, beer and sex -- drew gales of laughter.

Subsequent routines aimed to convey the two main messages of the program: that recognizing the progression toward sexual assault is crucial, and that obtaining consent is essential.

Leaving things to chance, the co-stars emphasized, is asking for trouble. When Ms. Kelly asked why people are reluctant to seek consent, the audience replied that they're worried about hearing no. And if you decide to bypass the question and go ahead with sex because you don't want to take a chance on hearing no, then that makes you a rapist, she said.

The serious but straightforward message couched in unsubtle humor is a hallmark of "Sex Signals." Brainchild of Chicago-based Catharsis Productions, the show has won awards and wide praise. Its website plays on the iconic "Got milk?" ads with a sign that asks, "Got consent?"

Military installations that host the production get a version adapted to their particular branch of the service. This is the second year in a row the Academy has brought "Sex Signals" to campus for cadets.

"It is very common for me to hear from young Airmen and cadets, after we've spoken to them for the first time, that what we discuss in defining sexual assault is not only the first time they've heard it but (also) the first time they realized that what had happened to them actually was sexual assault," Ms. Beasley said.

She added that three degrees who watched "Sex Signals" last year gave feedback with electronic clickers, and 90 percent of them said the show was enjoyable and valuable.
According to the show's website, each tailored program "incorporates the core values of the specific military branch, and utilizes these principles to empower military personnel to be allies in sexual assault prevention."

Mr. Sanders can draw on his military background when performing at venues like the Air Force Academy. According to his online biography, he was an infantryman in the Army. He was stationed at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, and also served a tour in Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. After receiving an honorable discharge, he moved to Chicago and completed the Second City Theater's conservatory program. He established a local connection by earning a bachelor's degree from Colorado Technical University in 2008. His career as a stage performer for Catharsis began a little over a year ago.

Mr. Sanders and Ms. Kelly led two shows for the Academy cadets this year. The 75-minute production has drawn as much praise from local audiences as it has from top Defense Department brass. In the military section of its website, Catharsis Productions posted the opinion of Michael L. Dominguez, principal deputy in the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense: "Few presentations make the lasting impressions that yours makes. Thank you for creating such an entertaining and thought-provoking intervention."