Fulbrighter Carolyn Kras' historical play addresses sexual assault issues

The Subject, a new play by Fulbright Lusk Memorial Fellowship Awardee Carolyn Kras, tells the story of Princess Sophia's fight for justice amidst a sexual assault cover-up.

2015-16 Fulbrighter Carolyn Kras is using her Fulbright Lusk Memorial Fellowship Award to address sexual assault issues through her new play The Subject. A reading of the script took place on 22 May at Upstairs at the Arts as a benefit event for the UNiTE to End Violence against Women campaign and Rape Crisis England and Wales.

The play features a ‘dysfunctional’ royal family – the mad King George III and drug-addicted Queen Charlotte are parents to Ernest, a sex addict; Augusta, an agoraphobe; and Princess Sophia. After she is attacked, Sophia wants justice. But her family, afraid of losing power, orchestrates a cover-up to keep the secret to themselves.

“I wanted to tell this story from history to explore the contemporary crisis of sexual assault cover-ups,” Kras said. “It's imperative that we change the culture of silence surrounding sexual assault. Theatre offers a means of reflection and engagement, and I hope the play's story will encourage communities to take positive action.”  

The reading of The Subject was part of UN Orange Day, which takes place on the 25th of each month and calls people, businesses, schools and governments to end violence against women and girls. Each month the UNiTEcampaign highlights a different goal contributing to the elimination of this violence. 

“Since those issues are at the heart of the play, it was a natural affiliation,” she said. 

Kras wrote the majority of parts for women, because she wanted to “create dynamic roles for women, especially to offer theatres more gender parity opportunities.”

Without the Lusk award, Kras said she would not have been able to write the script. The Illinois native, who now lives in North Hollywood, has spent the year as Playwright in Residence at the Sell A Door Theatre Company in London. Kras said their support of her play “made all the difference.”

The grant gave her the time and resources to gather the knowledge she needed and write the play. While Kras had written scripts about British history before, the Georgian and Regency areas were newer to her. 

“My Fulbright research allowed me to investigate these time periods more closely,” she said.

Last September she sifted through boxes of the Hanover family’s original correspondences at the University of Oxford’s Bodleian Libraries, getting to know their daily lives. 

A month at the Hawthornden Castle in Scotland, where she was a Writer in Residence, allowed her “distraction-free” time to draft the play. Kras said she wrote the bulk of the script in November and December 2015, then spent early spring revising and workshopping it.

Kras learned about the Georgian period’s architecture, fashion, food and customs in Bath, all of which "informed the world of the play,” she said. Kras even got to try Georgian desserts while there, which helped with the wedding scene.

From there, Sell A Door coordinated readings while Kras helped with publicity and logistics. 

“Being in the UK opened up a wealth of opportunities,” she said. “As Playwright in Residence at Sell A Door Theatre Company in London, I received ongoing feedback from colleagues and collaborated with actors before the play’s public presentations.”

The Subject is directed by Anna Fox. The cast for the London readings included Alfred Enoch of How to Get Away with Murder and Harry Potter, Peter Guinness of Stan Lee’s Lucky Man and Rachel Bright of EastEnders. Kras said she is currently corresponding with theatres about potential productions. She plans to reach out to 25 different colleges in the United States and ask them to present readings of The Subject on the same day.