Broom Street Theater often takes on difficult topics, but its latest play comes with a "mature audience" warning and opportunities for counseling after the show.
Invisible Boy, written and directed by Broom Street artistic director Callen Harty, explores childhood sexual abuse. Using narrative and poetry, the play traverses time and memory as its central character fuses the broken pieces of his past to become a survivor rather than a victim.
Harty's autobiographical play premiered Friday, Sept. 24. "It went really well," he says of the opening. "It was actually one of the better opening night performances I've ever been involved in."
The Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault, the Rape Crisis Center and individuals from Men Stopping Rape provide trained counselors and other resources at the performances, as well as assist with talkbacks after the Sunday shows.
"I'm really glad we have people there, just in case," says Harty. "You can't put a subject like this out there without some kind of resource, so that if somebody needs it, they have someplace to turn to."
He conceived the play several years ago, recalling his experiences growing up in Shullsburg, Wis.
"It was the most difficult thing I've ever written," says Harty, who has written and directed more than 20 full-length plays. "But in the end, it was worth it. For our cast as well. They've also talked about how healing it's been to them. One of them had a conversation with a family member who abused them that they never had before.
"This is the kind of thing I'm hoping for - that it opens up a line of communication, that it opens up people to looking at their lives and getting some help."
In some ways directing the script, which includes stylized portrayals of abuse, was even more difficult than writing it.
"I did have to - a lot of times - be really open," Harty says. "I had to be a lot more sharing. The actors had to trust each other with that as well. It was just that much harder."
Sometime during the play's run, Harty will step down after five years as Broom Street's artistic director, though he'll remain involved with the company.
"Many people thought this place wouldn't survive," says Harty of the death of his predecessor, Joel Gersmann, artistic director for 37 years. After working with the troupe's board on the transition, he says, "I feel good about handing it off."