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JCCT's 'How I Learned To Drive' production is more than a play to director Christian Coger

Jonathan Roberts • Jun 30, 2019 at 7:56 PM

Sexual abuse and exploitation isn’t a topic many people are comfortable or eager to talk about, which is why the Johnson City Community Theatre’s Christian Coger is bringing “How I Learned To Drive” to the JCCT stage this fall.

The play, written by Paula Vogel in 1997, tells the story of “Lil’ Bit” as she recounts growing up with her sexually abusive and manipulative Uncle Peck. Living with a misogynistic grandfather and apathetic mother, Lil’ Bit struggles to live with her uncle’s abuse. The play jumps between timeline, and shows the progressive erosion of Lil’ Bit’s innocence, and her struggle to deal with the emotional fallout of the abuse.

For Coger though, it’s more than just a play — it’s something he can relate to, and something he wants to use to help other sexual abuse survivors.

“It’s a play I’ve wanted to do since 2011 or 2012,” Coger said. “I myself am a sexual abuse victim. It’s not necessarily my story on stage, but it’s a story that’s necessary to spark a conversation.”

The conversation Coger, the play’s director, is trying to start is something he feels should’ve been done a long time ago, and one that people in Northeast Tennessee tend to “shy away” from discussing, which can result in further stigmatization of sexual assault survivors and victim blaming or shaming.

“When I lived in New York City, every other street sign was something about sexual assault, abuse or domestic violence,” he said. “Here you don’t get that. You get a lot of people who are afraid to say anything.”

According to RAINN, the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, one in six women will be victims of sexual assault, as will one in 33 men. For that reason, Coger understands the impact a performance like this can have — especially for survivors in the audience.

Following the first show on Sept. 12, there will be a discussion session for the cast, audience and several community health professionals.

“Really, I hope the reaction is positive and that it sparks a conversation, I don’t care about the applause, I don’t care about standing ovations — I just want to tell the story for what the story is, and allow a difficult topic to be brought up,” Coger said.

“I want to make sure people are able to be empowered by their stories and realize that they don’t have to sit idly by,” he said. “You can use your story as a tool and empower people around you. That’s why this is important to me.”  

General admission tickets are $15, students and seniors are $12. Tickets are available to the public at www.jccommunitytheatre.org.

If you need help, visit RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Online Hotline or the National Sexual Violence Resource Center’s website.

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