Shana Natelson, 23
Producer/writer/actor, Speak About It
When someone asks Shana Natelson what she wants to do with her life, she usually tells them, “I want to talk about sex.”
It’s not what you think. The 23-year-old New Mexico native and Bowdoin College grad produces, writes and stars in the traveling show, “Speak About It,” which pointedly addresses sexual assault, consent, boundaries and healthy relationships.
“We have a pretty great message that we’re trying to get out,” said the young activist, although she acknowledged that, “we’re talking about something that can be very difficult.”
The endeavor started as an in-house production in 2009 at Bowdoin, but, upon her graduation last year, Natelson began independently producing it, and has since brought it to several schools in the state, as well as in Massachusetts and New York. She and her troupe of roughly a half-dozen young actors, writers and sexual educators will also perform later this month in Orono at a conference put on by the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault.
“It turned out to have a much bigger impact than any of us thought,” said Natelson, who lives in Portland, and, when not working on the show, serves as a barista.
She pointed out that 1 in 4 college-aged women will experience attempted or completed sexual assault. And, while it would be “presumptuous” for “Speak About It” to think it could put an end to that, she noted that, “we can certainly help.”
Stressing safe relationships and the concepts of consent and bystander intervention, the show has a structure similar to “The Vagina Monologues,” incorporating both skits and first-hand accounts.
The goal is to be frank, but also “entertaining, educational and empowering,” Natelson explained. It’s “really getting across what consent is, and what consent isn’t, where the line is.”
As for the future? She said she’d like to see the show follow the format of “Monologues,” becoming a roving show that colleges, high schools and theater companies could pick up. And she’d love to be a traveling director.
It’s certainly not anything she’d ever thought she’d be doing – she didn’t study acting, writing or stage direction in college, “not even a little bit,” she said with laugh. Rather, she holds a bachelor’s degree in government and legal studies from Bowdoin, where she also studied Spanish and played hockey.
But over the years, she became increasingly more involved in sexual education, helping to organize various events on campus – including “Consent is Sexy” week – and becoming influential in groups like the Alliance for Sexual Assault Prevention.
“I really found my niche talking about this,” she said. “This has been a really great adventure, and I want to keep adventuring with it.”
– Taryn Plumb