THERE is often a roaring energy to an audience of 800 high-schoolers - particularly a few days before school lets out. An energy that may be absent from an audience of 800 adults. Sometimes adults stare blandly forward during a presentation, occasionally vouchsafing signs of life by applauding when appropriate.
In an auditorium of kids, on the other hand, people are all but doing wheelies on the ceiling. They have strong reactions to everything. No discreet titters or polite guffaws here, but shrieks and hoots.
These reactions, however, may bear little resemblance to the official view being promoted by teachers and other responsible adults!
Before school let out this summer, the Cambridge Rindge and Latin Improvisation Troupe presented several skits on the subject of domestic violence at Somerville High School as part of the Dating Violence Intervention Project. This project is sponsored by Transition House, a shelter for battered women, and Emerge, a counseling organization for battering men.
The performance was presided over by Carole Sousa of Transition House and Doug Aucoin of Emerge, and was directed by Jim Vetter.
THE audience follows every point and plot twist with noisy interest. No performers on Broadway could hope for reactions like this.
Particularly vocal is a group of boys in the upper left balcony, who are demonstrating a teen-age boy's idea of being cool in front of your friends. For instance, a sample skit shows a guy punching his girlfriend because she forgot their lunch date.
``Do it! Hit her!'' shrieks the left balcony.
Other scenes show a boy hitting a girl because she lost a necklace he gave her, another yelling at a boy who talked to the first one's girlfriend at a party, and another pressuring a girl to sleep with him, despite the fact that she said no several times. Screams of laughter come from the crowd when he says, ``I didn't think you really meant it''.
In the skits two girls chatter in the restroom about the black eye one of them has because her boyfriend hit her. ``Rachel, you should care,'' says the sympathetic friend to the one patting her eye and declaring that no, she doesn't.
``Oh, puh-leez!'' comments a girl behind me - one of a contingent with wildly teased hair, tight black pants, and big earrings.
From the stage, ``I don't want to lose him, Cor,'' says the battered girl to her friend.
``Awwww!'' screams the crowd.
The moderators announce that we will be reviewing the skits again and asking for comments from the audience. At the scene where the boy is pressuring the girl to sleep with him, one boy in the back proves that the age of chivalry is definitely dead by yelling, ``Show the other way around - girls pursuing guys!''
``Yeah!'' screams the left balcony.
``Does she mean no when she says no?'' Carole Sousa asks the audience. Opinion is loudly divided here, with girls saying yes and boys saying no.
There are also differing reactions to the reprise of the hitting scene, the one where people yelled, ``Do it!'' ``That was all the boys,'' one girl says.
``'Cause they're sick,'' says another.
``They think it makes them look good when they hit the girls, but it doesn't,'' says a third.
``Got to smarten her up,'' yells a guy from the left balcony, with a characteristic missing Boston r.
``Girls, does that smarten you up?'' asks Ms. Sousa.
``NOOOOOO!'' scream the girls.
REVIEWING the scene where the two girls are talking about one girl's black eye, Sousa asks the audience for a different way of dealing with the situation.
``Have your boyfriend beat him up,'' yells a girl.
``Besides having him beaten up,'' says Sousa patiently.
She points out that jealousy, possessiveness, and violent behavior are often seen as expressing love, but that that is false. She explains that after the boy hit the girl, they didn't feel closer. ``It didn't work,'' she comments.
One woman in the front row, a counselor perhaps, asks elegantly, ``What should a girl do if a boy says he'll kill himself if she leaves him?''
Mr. Aucoin remarks that this threat is ``incredible manipulation.''
One boy comes up to the front to give a more detailed opinion on this point. ``If the guy's gonna kill himself 'cause the girl leaves, I think he should kill the girl instead, 'cause she's leaving him,'' he says.
``If these boys were alone, I don't think they'd be saying the stuff they're saying,'' says a counselor in the front row.
``I know what it is to feel that you are being blamed for everything that any man ever did to any woman - that's a very uncomfortable position,'' says Aucoin.
AT the end, a group of counselors sitting in the front row introduce themselves and give information on how they can be reached if the kids need help with a problem with a boyfriend or girlfriend. There seems to be an impressive amount of help available, also a tremendous concern.
The school guidance counselor takes the opportunity to say gently, ``I hope some of the behavior I wasn't pleased with isn't a real reflection of the way you feel.''
``They're making the school look like a jerk,'' says a girl in the third row, with disgust.
After the program, people are disassembling lights and tidying up. Aucoin and Sousa stand in front to answer individual questions.
The boys' reactions to the program is pretty typical, apparently. ``They think that's what the girls want to hear,'' Sousa comments.
She says it's difficult for her to listen to comments like the one the boy made about killing the girl if she leaves him. ``When I hear that and I know the statistics ... I didn't know what to say.''
Aucoin points out the basic problem, which is the idea that boys are supposed to be in charge, while girls are supposed to be sweet and gentle.
He says that a lot of conflict is avoided because by and large people conform to these roles. ``A lot doesn't happen unless she challenges him,'' he says. ``If she does, he'll show his desire to be in control.''
These assemblies are intended to ``raise consciousness'' and bring up questions. They are followed up by individual workshops in the classroom.
In general, the boys don't admit to changing their views after the workshops, but the girls get the point, according to Aucoin.
He remarks that, if the girls stop putting up with abuse, the boys will have to change - or find themselves left out in the cold.
Last in a series of three.