Mill Mountain Theatre is proud to announce its partnership with several area organizations and leaders to use the upcoming production of On Golden Pond as an opportunity raise awareness about the problems and issues of family violence in our community. Please join us on Sept. 30, Oct. 3 and Oct. 9 for events related to performances.
Domestic Violence: A Community Problem that Begs for Wider Awareness
Domestic and family violence has grown at a shocking rate in the Roanoke region over the past decade, becoming a drain on thin resources to deal with its impacts and efforts for prevention. A study released in 2013 by the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services found:
- Roanoke City had the highest rate of domestic violence victims among all of the state’s cities and counties, of 25.5 people per 1,000-person population. That rate of victims and incidents reported to criminal justice agencies grew by 29 percent between 2006 and 2010, the parameters of the study. In the same period, the number of reported victims was 10 per 1,000 people in neighboring Salem but the rate of increase was a more dramatic 56 percent.
- The number of arrests made from reports of domestic violence grew during that period by 20.8 percent in Roanoke City, 37.6 percent in Salem and by 902 percent in Roanoke County, the same study said. Even before that study documented a growing problem, Roanoke saw a spike in deaths attributed to domestic violence in 2005, causing City Councilman Sherman Lea to head an effort to understand causes of the problem and seek solutions. Recommendations led to dedicated staff positions in the Police and Social Services departments to deal with the issue.
Domestic violence is estimated to cost the U.S. economy $8.3 billion annually, according to a December 2013 report by Forbes magazine. The article computed direct costs of medical care and lost productivity by job absence of the 24 percent of adult women and 14 percent of adult men who are physically abused by their partners. The problem is severe to the point that several major, national companies admit to screening job applicants for signs of domestic violence.
Ironically, the increase in police reports of domestic crimes in Roanoke comes at a time when the community’s overall crime rate has decreased and the city ranked nationally among localities with declining incidents of violent crime.
Some of the increase in domestic crime reports is attributed to change in public awareness and new laws that empower police officers to seek holistic solutions to families’ problems, said Frank Leftwich, a Roanoke Police Department criminal investigator in its special victims unit. He also is a member of the Roanoke Family Violence Coordinating Council, an agency that matches organizations offering services with citizens needing them.
Before 2011 a police officer who responded to a complaint about a family disturbance would say to those involved “Calm down. If we have to come back, somebody is going to jail,” Leftwich said. Since changes in state laws “we ask about the root of the argument, the cause of the stress.” The officer now assesses the situation to determine who is the aggressor and who is the victim, to make an arrest and to seek emergency protective orders, he said. When there is a subsequent offense, the civil complaint becomes a criminal matter.
There is now greater focus on the offenders as well as the victims of domestic violence, Leftwich said. There is also acknowledgment that the cycle of domestic violence in families and communities cannot be broken without bringing awareness of the problem.
Mill Mountain Theatre’s Response to a Community Need
It is not the conventional role of arts organizations such as Mill Mountain Theatre to address directly criminal justice issues like domestic violence. But it has long been a function of playwriting and theatre to be catalysts for social change and to empower those who assume leadership roles. Our collateral events associated with last season’s productions of To Kill a Mockingbird and Children of Eden as good examples of the ability of Mill Mountain Theatre to draw people together for thoughtful discussion as well as to deliver messages through performances. MMT’s production of On Golden Pond will coincide with the Family Violence Coordinating Council’s awareness walk and ceremony to remember victims, in downtown Roanoke on Oct. 9. Leftwich plans for the group to staff information tables during MMT performances and related events and to offer private counseling for people who want it. Other community agencies are developing ways to draw the greatest impact from public events facilitated by MMT. On Golden Pond, now a classic of both theatre and film, is about a family in the flux of uncomfortable change. Roles of two women in the cast are the change agents as well as emotional glue that hold the family together during that change. They are models for women who are the victims of family violence, for women who are advocates for change in how society understands and reacts to domestic abuse and for creation of programs that more directly address these costly problems. Our partners in this project include The Turning Point shelter operated in Roanoke by the Salvation Army for abused women and their children, Roanoke Regional Chamber of Commerce and its Leadership Roanoke Valley program, Hollins University, the Roanoke Police Department Family Violence Coordinating Council and Citizens Against Family Violence in Martinsville. Those partners are helping Mill Mountain Theatre identify and invite women who will benefit from seeing performances of On Golden Pond and whose presence in the audiences and talk-back sessions can increase awareness of the social problems.
The Play That Will Generate Healthy Discussion and Action
On Golden Pond’s strength is in telling the impact of human affection in a family beset by changing roles and pressures of contemporary society. It is a message that many of us need to hear to affirm our own feelings about those we love and those we barely know.
Our goal is to include in the audience women whose lives have been affected by family conflict and who are repairing themselves with a sense of empowerment. Understanding that they are not alone in their struggle is an important aspect of their renewal. We hope the impact of our production will add positively to community discussion about domestic violence, family change and personal relationships.
A six-actor cast tells the story of the power of respect and love among people who consider themselves a family. The two women’s roles are pivotal to the change that ultimately affects the relationships and affirms the interdependency of the other characters. The play is about Ethel Thayer, in her 70s, and Norman Thayer, about to turn 80, who return to their Maine vacation cottage on Golden Pond. The summer begins routinely but is quickly changed when their estranged middle-age daughter, Chelsea, arrives with her fiancé, Bill, and his teenage son. The daughter and her friend depart for a trip to Europe and leave behind the adolescent boy, Billy.
The elderly couple and boy work through their own awkwardness but eventually become close, sharing interests in fishing on the lake and discoveries of new experiences. By the time the daughter and her friend return as a married couple, Chelsea must deal with her curmudgeon of a father, who has never acknowledged her personal and professional successes and with his own oncoming senility. Ethel must absorb the abrupt changes in her family, acknowledge Norman’s declining health and ponder the effects on her life. Near the end of the play Norman suffers heart pains and collapses; Ethel’s reaction shows she has feared his death for some time.
The characters and their situation are believable, said Roger Ebert in his review of the play’s film version for the Chicago Sun-Times. “On Golden Pond was a treasure for many reasons, but the best one, I think, is that I could believe it. I could believe in its major characters and their relationships.” Ebert confessed he left the theatre “with a certain resolve to try to mend my own relationships and learn to start listening better.”
Mill Mountain Theatre last presented On Golden Pond in 1986 for audiences totaling 4,469 people. The play’s quiet contemplative humor is a contrast to the bright big-cast musicals for which MMT has built its reputation. But we believe that producing plays with a serious message is part of our mission, especially when they encourage patrons to consider their own conditions.
Women who are victims of family conflicts that rob them of empowerment are those who also are burdened by loss of financial independence, damaged credit and without access to reparative counseling, said Jamie Starkey, program director at The Turning Point shelter in Roanoke.
“Everyone has a struggle in life,” Starkey said. “Many abused women end up in shelters because they have no one to reach out to as a mentor or as a timely counselor.” The experience of seeing and talking about On Golden Pond would be validation of worthiness for many” of The Turning Point’s clients, she said.
The goals against which we will measure the project’s success are:
- Attendance by at least 250 women and family members at designated performances of On Golden Pond who, as identified by MMT’s partner agencies, will benefit from the experience.
- At least three collateral events tied to performances as either pre-show discussions or post-show talk-back sessions. These events will be facilitated by trained members of MMT’s partner agencies for this project and designed to generate community conversation and measurable actions to deal with the problem of family conflict.
- Increased awareness of domestic violence as a significant and growing problem for the Roanoke community. We will seek measurable feedback from our partner agencies to know that production of the play and collateral events enabled them to generate awareness and concern. Awareness of incidents and costs of domestic violence is a component of the City of Roanoke’s education effort that date from the task force first formed in 2005. The Family Violence Coordinating Council and several of its member agencies will participate in events related to MMT’s production and evaluate those efforts.
Mill Mountain Theatre relies on ticket sales and contributed underwriting from sponsors and grantors to produce its shows. Collateral events often mean that seats are allocated to patrons who are part of focused groups we want to reach but who cannot pay for tickets. Their involvement subtracts from the inventory of seats that could be sold and, thus, that lost revenue is offset by underwriting and grants. The projected budget for collateral events related to the production of On Golden Pond includes the cost of unpaid seats at performances and facilitation of community discussions related to performances.
Our project partners expect that about 250 clients of agencies assisting domestic violence victims would benefit by seeing a performance and participating in related discussions. Their involvement has a direct cost of about $7,700 in unrealized ticket revenue. Additional costs would provide marketing to reach that focused audience, recorders to collect and effectively analyze the comments and concerns raised at collateral events, and food and beverages for the pre-show discussions.
The Kathryn B. McQuade Foundation, which supports global efforts for women’s and children’s rights, education and welfare, and the Friendship Foundation of Roanoke have made the initial grants for this project. Other proposals for support are pending.
For further information please contact John Levin at firstname.lastname@example.org or 540.342.5761.