The Not Ready for Bedtime Players: The backbone of sexual education on campus

“We really use comedy as an access point”

Collegian+File+Photo

Collegian File Photo

By Grace Lee, Collegian Correspondent

Discussions of sexual health can be uncomfortable, but they don’t have to be. As the Not Ready for Bedtime Players show us, these conversations can be enjoyable, and possibly even hilarious.

The theater troupe, which has been operating since the 1980s, performs various skits to educate University of Massachusetts students and host discussions related to sexual health.

“Often the topics of sex and contraception can be a little bit uncomfortable to perform on such a big scale, so we really use comedy as an access point,” Sigal Gerson Kadden, assistant director of NRBP, said.

The troupe performs some serious skits too, however they mainly use comedy to make their content more approachable. A common gag they rely on is using condom demonstration models as microphones.

Sophomore group member Lauren Duhr, a psychology and sustainable food and farming double major, said, “Humor is an effective conversation tool because you are drawing people in, but it is also just funny and it’s okay for some things to just be funny.”

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, NRBP along with many other student organizations had to operate fully online for the 2020-2021 academic year. The group, however, has transitioned back to in-person rehearsals this semester.

Kadden, who is currently a graduate student, said it was really difficult to host rehearsals over Zoom. “So much of theater is being in your body. It was really a challenge trying to figure out how to do that, but the players were so committed.”

“Being able to finally come back in person and meeting students and finally seeing their faces was a really exciting thing,” Kadden said.

Kadden, who has a background in theater education, said that the group strives to perform skits that are relevant to current issues on campus.

“Every skit, everything we do is student written. We have a database of skits that probably go back to the early 2000s,” she said. “We work with these scenes that were written maybe 20 years ago so it’s like how to take this and maybe change certain aspects of it to make it more relevant?”

This semester the group has put a large emphasis on consent education.

Former undergraduate and current lab manager Britt Mardis said, “Anytime we plan what skits are going to be for the semester, we always try to shape it around what is relevant, like what we think is necessary, what is needed and what is missing.”

Educating on topics such as sexual assault, however, is always important and something the group is constantly working on, even when such issues are not being prioritized by the University.

Mardis added that the group often struggles to remain visible to students. “We have had to fight tooth and nail to be visible and maintain a presence on this campus,” Mardis said.

Mardis joined the troupe when she was a freshman. Last spring, she graduated and now works at a neuroscience lab at UMass and has remained an active member of the troupe.

“The group is like 30 years old, a lot of people don’t know that we exist and that we have been trying to do this work,” Mardis said.

Duhr auditioned fully over zoom for the troupe last year. She described the group’s work as being both preventative and restorative.

“In my personal opinion, I think the work is always going to be relevant no matter what is being seen, or brought attention to on campus,” Duhr said.

As it stands today, NRBP is the sole group on campus that actively works on a regular basis to educate on sexual health topics.

“As one group, we can only do so much and there is so much to be done,” Duhr said.

She added, “I wish that there were more groups about sexual health on this campus. I would love to see other groups on campus doing consent workshops.”

Historically, the group would perform predominantly in residence halls. There have been many changes on how the residence halls conduct programming, according to NRBP Director Tommy Claire.

“We are still able to partner with Residence Life to have some residence shows, but we were encouraged to include more campus-wide shows as well,” Claire said. “Securing space on campus can be a challenge due to the simple supply and demand aspects of having such a large residential community here at UMass.

NRBP was originally created as a collaboration between the Center for Health Promotion and the Theater Department, and currently receives funding directly from University Health Services. Performing in residential spaces was the group’s original purpose.

“It may seem obvious, but it was critical to the community health component for the troupe to perform in the communities where students live,” Claire said.

In hopes of reaching a larger audience, the group recently hosted the SEXpo. They gathered local and on-campus organizations to discuss the intersection of sexual health and community organizing.

The members look forward to hosting auditions next semester. “No theater experience is required, we just want people who are passionate about social justice and are ready to come and have these hard conversations,” Kadden said.

Follow the troupe on Instagram to find out more: @NRBPofficial.

Grace Lee can be reached at [email protected].