"Balance" Uses Performing Arts To Bring Awareness To Child Sexual Assault

Apr 17, 2014

Denise Miller reading her poem "Speak Easy" at Fire Historical and Cultural Arts Collaborative.
Credit Rebecca Thiele / WMUK

At Fire Historical & Cultural Arts Collaborative, three women are taking the negativity of sexual abuse and speaking their truth to power. 

Denise Miller, co-founder of Fire Historical & Cultural Arts Collaborative, along with Melissa Dey Hasbrook and Laura Sprague will be presenting "Balance," two nights of performing arts focused on moving forward after surviving child sexual assault.

"When something has been spoken, and it's spoken, the mere act of speaking it to the air is that first level of healing of being able to speak it, because so many of us couldn't speak it growing up when it was happening," says Miller.

All three women have crafted identities for themselves in the local and regional arts community:  Sprague spearheads an organization called the Body Love Project focused on reshaping female body image. 

Hasbrook, who is a writer and community artist, leads workshops in the creative and healing arts.

Miller is a professor at Kalamazoo Valley Community College, as well as a writer and chef, most recently of Fuel Vegetarian restaurant.

This program is an off shoot of Fire’s “Speaking Truth Equals Power” series, also known as STEP. STEP was developed out of a grant that Fire received a grant from Ping Chong + Company, a theatrical organization that works with adult survivors of child sexual assault.

The three women have been working together as a group for about a year. 

"I'm hoping that people who just want to come and hear us, I'm hoping that they realize that this is the reality of a lot of people in this world and that people are going through it right now, and that people have gone through it and will go through it," says Miller of the situation.

According to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network, an American is sexually assaulted every two minutes, and one of every six women has been made a victim of rape. 

Miller says that she wasn't able to deal with her own personal experience until she was in college, and away from the compromising environment. She began by writing about it, which led to her reading about it, and then to leading open mics where she could share her feelings more openly. 

"I write about things that people don't hear about or choose not to hear about. I always say as Audre Lorde said - for me the personal has always been political. It becomes political because it becomes a place where there's a line in the sand that people have to recognize what's happening and they have to do something with it," says Miller.

In preparing their work for the show, Miller and the group are concentrating on creating awareness, an engaging experience and a safe space to share.

"Every single time I doing it - especially when I'm speaking these stories, it's a scary place to be because of the way that our society tends not to get it. So I'm hoping people find the power in speaking their truth from what they see us doing in speaking our truths." 

Balance will begin at 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday at the Fire Historical & Cultural Arts Collaborative.