BRATTLEBORO >> On Thursday, September 22, Tim Collins will perform "The Bystander," a one-man show that addresses sexual-assault prevention and ways that bystanders can intervene in a sexual assault. The performance, at the Root Social Justice Center in Brattleboro, will benefit the Women's Freedom Center.
In a phone interview, Collins explained that he creates characters around current issues.
"I always start with a central theme or topic, whether it's bystander intervention, or rape culture or cyber-bullying, and then I move on to interviews with students and educators who are close to the issue," he said.
His research also takes him online.
"A great source of information about where the conversations are trending comes from YouTube – and the comments," he noted. "You can really draw 100 different perspectives from one conversation thread on a video."
As he explores an issue, characters begin to emerge.
"The characters that want to be in the show let me know who they are, and what their stories are that they want to tell," he said. "Typically a show comes together in about three or four weeks, and then I share the show with educators and agencies and then continue to fine-tune it, and at that point take it on the road."
His shows continue to evolve, depending on the audience.
"I improv constantly," he explained. "The content changes from show to show sometimes. If a college that books me wants the show to focus on a certain topic, I might be in the middle of rewrites and rehearsals incorporating the new material the day before the performance."
After years of touring his first show, "The Script," around the themes of masculinity, rape culture and sexual assault prevention, he created "The Bystander" in response to concern about current events.
"I was part of great and significant conversations with educators, students and activists," he remembered. "The conversations are always developing, and the trending focus became more and more about bystander interventions, so I wanted to create a show specifically about that issue.
"There were several significant incidents in the past several years – namely Steubenville, the spring break incidents at Panama Beach in Florida, and, most famously, Brock Turner and the Stanford rape case," he noted. In Steubenville, Ohio, some high school students filmed and published repeated sexual assaults on an unconscious young woman; in Panama Beach, four men assaulted an unconscious woman within feet of a crowd of bystanders; and in Stanford, Brock Turner was convicted of assaulting a woman who lost consciousness at a party. Collins said he wondered about the role of the bystanders.
"A question that I had was, 'What about all the students at the party who may have been aware of the woman and her incredibly rapid decline over the course of an hour and a half, when she became so intoxicated that she lost consciousness?'" Collins commented.
"And then Brock Turner carried her out of the fraternity house," Collins continued. "Did anyone notice any of that going on, and was intervention conceivable before the Swedish graduate students witnessed the assault? They were heroes for sure, but could anyone else have intervened before the assault took place? In light of those questions, that's where 'The Bystander' originated."
Collins recalled that his career began even before he graduated from Marlboro College in 2002.
"I went to college at Marlboro and started writing one-man shows in college, and started touring when I was still a student, he explained. " I graduated in 2002 and I've been touring ever since. My original stomping ground was New England, and then I branched out along the East Coast and the Midwest, but since 2002 I've performed in, I'd say, 30 states – I've been on both coasts, I've been to Texas – all over the country.
His career has been a constant surprise to him.
"I'm making it up as I go along," he commented. "I've been doing one-man shows since 2002, but the last five years have been full time, and I've been figuring out how to do it. It involves constant creation and hustling. I do writing, rehearsals, directing, promotion, bookings, travel arrangements, website maintenance, mailings – everything."
In spite of the stress, he loves "the intimacy of being deep in your own work, surrounded by it at all times, and the characters becoming like dear friends or children because you've worked with them for so long. There's one show about bullying prevention I've been touring for going on six years now, and those characters are very dear to me. The longer you get to work with these characters, the more they tell me what they want to say. In that way the performance is always changing."
Performing in Brattleboro has special meaning for Collins.
"I lived in Bratt my senior year, on Elliott Street," he remembered. "I spent a lot of time there. I've worked at the Hooker-Dunham several times, and at Cotton Mill Hill, as well as high schools in the area. I was at the Compass School just recently. I was at the Putney School about 10 years ago, and on the same day that I'm performing in Bratt, I'll be at Vermont Academy in the morning. I chose Vermont as a place to go to school before I chose the school, because I intuited that Vermont was a special, unique, cultivating environment.
"I'm really looking forward to sharing the new show with a great community and teaming up with an important organization like the Women's freedom Center," he concluded. "They have been amazing to work with."
The Women's Freedom Center will present "The Bystander" on Thursday, September 22, from 7-9 p.m. at The Root Social Justice Center, 28 Williams Street, Brattleboro. Suggested donation on a sliding scale from $5 to $10; all are welcome.