Photo by Carly Gassmann
By Carly Gassmann
“We upgraded,” Xavier Rodney, a former “Swallow This!” cast member said while plopping a heavy amplifier center-stage in the Charles B. Wang Center Theatre. Low, undulating bass notes seeped across the floor toward the audience, keeping rhythm as the figures in black began to stomp, clap and rap.
Veteran “Swallow This!” attendees might’ve experienced some déjà vu. That’s because the inspirational parody song that began the show was pulled from the archives, an encore from Rodney’s 2006-2007 generation cast.
“Swallow This!,” the theatrical appendage of Stony Brook’s Center For Outreach and Prevention, is a student-based production aimed at spreading awareness of the ubiquitous problems afflicting college campuses. Namely, the group works to educate students about dangers classified into three major clusters: alcoholism and drug abuse, rape and sexual assaults and depression and suicide. They do so by inviting students to submit accounts of their own struggles and staging them into actionable sketches.
This year’s performance, however, was unlike any before it in that the cast of eight was accompanied by actors from years prior. Preceding the main event — the exhibition of this year’s selected stories — was “The Evolution/Revolution of ‘Swallow This!’ Through the Years,” a retrospective montage of favorite songs, skits and scenarios.
Studded between the pieces were reminiscences by old members, explanations of their methodology and snippets of candid humor. The actors used no props or costumes, opting to use dialogue to set the scenes. As they explained, an actor turns his or her back to the audience when not in a scene. Also, one actor plays multiple roles throughout a performance. And of course, to end a scene, one yells “Swallow that!”
The skits to follow ranged from confused regret à la “The Hangover,” with one actor fruitlessly struggling to piece together last night’s events, to a somber tour through the inner workings of a depressed alcoholic’s mind. The actress in this scene referred to her brain as her “negative filter machine.” It was illustrated how any number of normal or well-meaning comments can be manipulated into an insult or criticism, driving someone to seek respite in substances.
Kathleen Flynn-Bisson, co-founder of the theatrical entity, became emotional as they introduced her, recounting her contributions to “Swallow This!,” which has since grown to have cast over 175 actors and actresses. She referred to herself as a “vessel” and a “vehicle” for the group, deflecting much of the praise and imparting how she felt she was meant to share this experience with others.
Bisson was presented with a “Founders Award,” and a “Spirit Award” was given to a past member, Dedunu Suraweera. Suraweera, like other veterans on stage, had also been involved in Bisson’s five-year company, “Stories of Substance.” She is currently involved in various forms of social activism.
Chris Graham, a first-timer at a “Swallow This!” performance and there supporting a cast member, called the show “interesting.” The audience of roughly fifty people was receptive, at times laughing, cheering and whistling at the monologues.
Perhaps one of the most powerful utensils the cast employed were statistics, giving sober reality to the sometimes satirical scenes of youthful joviality gone awry.
“One-third of all college students experience symptoms of depression.”
“1,825 college students die annually from alcohol poisoning.”
“1,100 college students successfully complete suicide every year.”
As Bisson accepted her award and recited the closing line she delivered at the end of her own performances, she entreated the audience to be active bystanders and to say something when they recognize a potential danger.
“The silence is what kills people.”