Sex has always had a degree of controversy about it, specifically when talking about it in public. Puritanical views tend to guide folks on such subjects, resulting in people being too scared, uncomfortable, or embarrassed to talk about them.
However, you won’t find that problem with certain members of the health education department. They offer a variety of courses, programs, and opportunities where people can go and learn more about the importance of sexual health.
One way the department deals with the topic is through humor, by way of the comedic stylings of the Not Ready for Bedtime Players.
There’s no denying the seriousness behind all these issues or the sensitivity one should have when talking about them. That’s why the troupe uses sketch comedy, effectively and selectively, as a way to create a comfort level with the audience.
“We don’t find any of the issues we talk about funny… but comedy can be a really effective way to get people thinking and feel comfortable with issues that are difficult to talk about,” said Rachel Frank, one of the Not Ready for Bedtime Players cast members.
Frank and her fellow cast members, Jeff Bielat, Shauna Burke, Nick Delaney, James Dean Fetcho, Brendan Nelson, Victoria Olivera, Malcolm Pradia, Christine Renaud, Adrianna Rosembert and Kenny Vasques are all advocates of sexual health education.
They perform skits on a diverse number of issues and they are not afraid to push the envelope. Everything from how to put on a condom, to relationship violence, homophobia, AIDS, pregnancy, and transgender issues are brought to the forefront of each show.
Some skits involve outrageous props, like microphones resembling a penis. A few spoof celebrities such as Steve Irwin’s famous Crocodile Hunter character and the Spartan Cheerleaders from Saturday Night Live. While other skits feature some of the awkward moments in life – such as buying condoms at a convenience store.
But perhaps the funniest and most memorable skit involves the troupe’s trademark character, Captain Condom. It’s a skit that has costumes, hilarious dialogue and a plot that has Captain Condom battle his evil sperm nemesis – all the while advocating the importance of wearing protection.
Amanda Collings Vann, a health educator and the director of the Not Ready for Bedtime Players, enjoys seeing the audience laugh.
“It’s okay to laugh when you’re talking about sex. These conversations can be difficult for people, so when you have a sense of humor about it, they don’t have to be something we’re afraid to have,” she said.
The relationship established between the cast and the audience is very important to Adrianna Rosembert. Much of her enthusiasm depends on the energy coming from the crowd.
“Once we come out and do the first couple of skits, if we feel that the audience’s energy is really good, then it just makes us want to do a better job and keep them as entertained as they have been from the start,” she said.
According to Collings Vann, who is also a former cast member (1990-1994), the current cast of the Not Ready for Bedtime Players holds the same values of the original cast, despite 20 years of changes. They are determined to provide the most accurate and scientifically-based health information and increase students’ recognition of the issues they address in their skits.
Incorporating such information into the skits requires a great deal of commitment. Many cast members have written, produced, and updated the skits. And as new information about sexual health becomes available, the more updates they have to make to the program. The troupe will introduce a new skit next fall about marijuana use and its effect on sexual performance. Also set to debut is a skit about mobile technology and its influence on the sharing of sexual explicit material.
Collings Vann emphasizes that providing accurate information is essential. The Not Ready for Bedtime Players are steadfast in their mission to dispel any myths there might be about sexual health, as their former name The AIDS Follies suggests.
“When the Bedtime Players started, it was when people really had this fear of people with AIDS. There were myths about how people contracted AIDS and the Bedtime Players helped dispel these myths,” said Collings Vann.
The theatrical troupe which formed in 1988 as part of a UMass theatre project to address the AIDS crisis just concluded its 20th anniversary season.
Ultimately Collings Vann hopes that the audience leaves having learned something.
“I want people to know how to put a condom on, how to make a dental dam, be able to talk to somebody who they think is in an abusive relationship, intervene when they see homophobia, really gain knowledge about these issues of sexual health and feel empowered to make good choices.”
If you are interested in joining the cast of the Not Ready for Bedtime Players, auditions take place at the start of the fall semester.
For further information about the troupe you may contact Amanda Collings Vann of the Health Education department at University Health Services.