By: Anika Nahar – Copy Editor
KICK, an award-nominated off-Broadway show will be performed at WPUNJ on April 12 at 6 p.m. Boasting of a rare display of a one-woman show, the play tells the story of the life an ex-dancer who is a victim of sexual assault and her journey in coping with the tragedy. Former Radio City Music Hall Rockette Joanna Rush, who is the writer and performer in the play, sat down with the Pioneer Times to share insight on the play and the significance of its message.
PT: You wrote AND you perform in KICK, which is pretty phenomenal. What made you want to write this particular play?
JR: I didn’t set out to write this particular play. Several things were going on at the same time. My agent fired me for being “too old” so I knew if I wanted to work as an actor, I had to create my own circumstances. I had been writing for quite a while and this started to percolate at a time when my best friend was dying of AIDS so I needed to write just from the pain. I did not know what it was going to be.
PT: What was your biggest concern when writing this play?
JR: Biggest concern was balancing the comedy with the pathos. Given the subject matter, it was crucial to find the humor in the piece.
PT: Did you believe that the play would have the amount of success that it has today?
JR: No. It’s been a very challenging journey getting it produced, given the ageism and sexism that prevails in our industry, not to mention the subject matter. We used to hear, “Nobody wants to see a play about rape.” Although rape is one element, it’s about so much more. But the time is really right for the play at this moment in history sadly.
PT: KICK presents a very sensitive and raw topic with rape and sexual assault. What is the biggest piece of information that you want your audience to leave with after watching your play regarding the treatment of rape victims, not only in the U.S. but globally?
JR: How important it is for victims of rape and sexual assault to be listened to, taken seriously, supported. To have a better understanding of the effect sexual assault can have on a person over their lifetime. What a difference a sensitive response would make in the very beginning, from law enforcement, from counselors, from healthcare workers. Being there for someone in that moment could really begin the healing process instead of compounding the guilt, shame, and fear
PT: Director Lynne Taylor-Corbett said, ‘this play has opened a conversation with many men.’ Can you elaborate further on that? Do you agree?
JR: Yes I agree. In the beginning, PR people and bookers were always trying to pigeonhole this work as a women’s piece. In our experience, Lynne and I found that men responded to it just as powerfully and deeply. We couldn’t see limiting it and we were right. One night, after the performance, house lights came up for a talk-back and there was a group of fraternity brothers spread out across the auditorium in their bright red shirts. I didn’t know they were in the audience. They were the first to ask questions. One of them asked how to act if you were dating a woman who had been raped, and before any of the experts on the panel could answer a young woman stood up and she said directly to him “just listen.” This started dialogue in the audience between men and women. What is so awesome is that the fraternity added to their mission statement “respect for women.” Lynne had the experience of talking to a young man after a performance and he told her that he hadn’t realized until he saw the play that he had been guilty of date rape. Which sounds really incredible but there’s an awful lot of confusion out there. Also, we have talked to men who have been sexually assaulted and finally felt free to talk about it
PT: Being a one-woman show must take a lot of rehearsing and patience! How long did it take for you to finally prepare for this amazing feat?
JR: I guess I’ve been preparing for it my whole life. I started dancing when I was nine, which is pretty late for one who wants a professional career, but believe me I did some serious acting up until that very moment – pleading and crying for dancing lessons. My father used to call me “Sarah Heartburn.” But I really love the process. I love being by myself, writing. I love working with the director and shaping the piece, and I love performing it. The only time I call on my powers of patience is when I have to do all the administrative work. Then I have to remind myself that it’s called Show Business for a reason.
PT: Do you feel like the play holds more resonance and significance being that it’s a one-woman show?
JR: I do. I’m not sure why, but there’s a lot of bias against solo shows. Another message Lynne and I got was that “nobody wants to book a solo show.” I allowed that to hold me back for quite a while. I remember reading a scathing article about solo shows in the New York Times. That did it for me. But then I started to think about the times that I’ve been really affected in the theater and it turned out to be solo shows, like the first time I saw Lily Tomlin’s “Searching for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe”, Eric Bogosian’s “Pounding Nails in the Floor with my Forehead”, John Leguizamo’s “Freak”, Rob Becker’s “Defending the Caveman.” Maybe they grab me because it’s so personal, like the difference between getting to know someone intimately and being at a party where you get a little bit of everything.
PT: KICK also touches on the subject of homophobia and AIDS. What message do you want the play to convey to the younger generation about acceptance of all genders, regardless of sexuality?
JR: The two main characters, Bernadette and Johnny are friends from childhood. They each spend a lifetime healing the sexual scars inflicted by religion. I think that one person playing both characters sends a powerful message that we are all one. One actor embodying all these characters hopefully opens us up to the possibility that we’re all human and not so different and can find the love there.
PT: If the audience had to leave with one piece of advice from the play, what would it be and why?
JR: I guess the advice would be: “Take joy!” We need that now more than ever.
KICK will be performed at the Shea Center for Performing Arts. Tickets are free for the public. Rush will partake in a question-and-answer session after the performance, along with a reception and book signing.