The Helen Wayne Rauh Studio Theater became a high school auditorium to host sex education for How To Put On A Sock, the first installment of the 2017-18 Director’s Series this November.
Starring Jonathan Norwood, Roma Scarano, and Harry Thornton, How To Put On A Sock brings audiences back to their memories (or lack of memories) of ninth grade sex ed with interactive lessons, motivational posters, and a basket of free condoms.
A few weeks before the show’s opening, creator and director Rachel Karp discussed her influences and process.
Tell me about How To Put On A Sock.
The play looks at sex education policy across the country today. It was inspired by the German play Spring Awakening, which in a way is a tale of what happens when people don’t get sex education. How To Put On A Sock takes the form of an immersive, participatory ninth grade sex ed lesson. It jumps through different states to show the range of what’s being taught. Intercut with these lessons are scenes between teens trying to figure out sex and their bodies and issues that come up with pretty much everyone as they’re growing up.
Where did you start with your development process?
I read different translations of [Spring Awakening]…honing in on what issues I was most interested in. I looked at every state’s sex education legislation and teen pregnancy and birth rates. America has the highest teen pregnancy rate of any so called developed country, and it is a real problem.
This idea came up for two students and one teacher…and how [I could] create one lesson [that] goes to different places. Can I find a way to make the differences in what’s being taught clear? What do we need to see in scenes between students to show the disconnect?
Why is it important for the play to be set across the country?
The range of what’s taught is extreme, as [are] teen pregnancy and STD rates. We start in California, which has one of the most comprehensive sex ed programs…and that’s contrasted with Mississippi, where you’re taught that condoms don’t work. Statistically, that doesn’t make people not have sex — it just makes them have sex that’s not safe. When you end up in a [place] where people come together from different locations, if everyone’s been taught something different, that’s where problems arise. If someone knows what consent is but someone else doesn’t, what happens when they try to or don’t want to have a sexual encounter?
What has been your process working with the piece now?
It’s been a lot of rewriting and restructuring, internally figuring out what the play needs. We’ve had people in from University Health and the office of Title IX…I’ve also been reaching out to people on campus and in Pittsburgh that deal with these issues hands on.
Did you always know that this would be an immersive piece?
That came out of the teacher character, and in doing research on sex ed. So much of it is really interactive and so it was like, let’s use all of that interactive stuff and make it fun but also fucked up. Because some of it is interactive in a really problematic way.
What excites you most about directing?
I want to make and see work that looks at problematic parts of our society, and tries to fix or call attention to them. I think it’s amazing to try to understand what our country is based on…and how it might be totally manipulated by certain people operating today.