Performance troupe talks honestly about sexuality
You might not expect an educational presentation from University Health Services to draw much of a crowd during finals week, but about 100 students gathered in Field residence hall in December to see the latest show from the Not Ready for Bedtime Players. When audience members weren’t laughing at tongue twisters like “Peanut butter poses problems for private parts” or grooving to “The Gonorrhea Dance,” they were respectfully listening to skits about relationship violence or transgender roommates.
The students crowded into the show (called “Safer Sex Live!”) because the Not Ready for Bedtime Players have long been known for providing genuinely funny and useful information on sexuality. The student troupe began as a 1988 UMass theater project about the AIDS crisis. Since then, the topics of its cast-written skits have expanded to all aspects of healthy sexuality and beyond, including gender, communication, relationships, diversity, and substance abuse. The troupe has built a national reputation and been a model for other programs.
Amanda Collings Vann ’94 joined the Not Ready for Bedtime Players in her first year at UMass and the experience put her, like many of her fellow players, on the path to a health education career. She now works in the Center for Health Promotion at University Health Services and, since 2007, has directed the troupe. The show’s outlook is sex-positive, explains Collings Vann. “We try to talk about the great things about sex as well as the things you have to be mindful of,” she says. “Sexuality is not just about intercourse, it’s about relationships.”
The troupe’s PG-rated show is required watching during first-year orientation. Attendance is voluntary at the racier shows presented weekly at residence halls, fraternity and sorority houses, and other sites throughout the academic year. As the students left the performance at Field, some grabbed fistfuls of condoms from a bowl next to boxes of free pizza. University Health Services research indicates students learn a lot while laughing: they know where to get tested for sexually transmitted infections, they’re more likely to use on-campus health services, and they’re more likely to practice safer sex.