Victorious Red Bank High students shed light on domestic violence

Scott Jacobs
A view of the Navesink River in Red Bank on Sept 25.

A group of Red Bank Regional High School students put in a lot of love when they delivered their message regarding an ongoing domestic violence epidemic occurring overseas.

And their showing resulted in a championship –and passionate– performance.

Red Bank Regional High School’s Italian 2-3 accelerated class won the Italian Teachers Association of New Jersey Italian Language and Cultural Competition with their moving “Love Is” performance.

The event, which was held at Montclair State University on March 15, attracted students from 11 high schools throughout the state. The students presented five-minute performances to an audience and a panel of judges, using only the Italian dialect. The theme of this year’s performance – love.

While the 10 other high schools presented “romantic” or “light” performances, the 16 Red Bank Regional students used this opportunity in the presence of the public to promote a vastly different issue pertaining to the notion of ‘love.’

“Le Scarpe Rosse,” or, “The Red Shoe”, is an art protest against domestic violence and femicide in Italy. Domestic abuse, especially it’s overarching severity in other countries, is a serious topic that is rarely discussed.

In Italy, red shoes are left in public places to represent a woman who has died from domestic violence.

“I think that it is extremely important to talk about these issues,” sophomore Lexi Hamm said. “Society already feels like women are equal, so it is amazing that people are offended that we demand more rights. It’s like we’re asking for something that we shouldn’t be asking for.” 

Over a period of two months, students from RBR thoroughly researched the issue of domestic violence, initially creating a powerful script in English. After all of the movement’s facts were in order, the script was then translated to Italian. RBR’s two other Italian teachers, Cristina Pesce and Federica Proietti Cesaretti, helped counsel Amy Eagelton’s class by providing research and assisting in rehearsals.

“I knew that if we were going to do something different, it needed to be of great importance. No drama for the sake of drama,” Italian teacher Eagelton said. “When we heard the theme was ‘Love Is,’ we realized we could do so much, especially having 14 girls in the class. We started talking about the ‘Me Too’ movement and sexual harassment. Then we asked ourselves, is this a problem in Italy? Suddenly, this became so much more than a competition. It’s now about getting a message out.”

Visual Performing Arts (VPA) students Lexi Hamm, 16, and Lilly Thygeson, 15, are said to have given the class “a distinctive edge” when it came to creating, as well as implementing, the protest performance.

“Senora Eagleton initially presented us with the idea of The Red Shoe movement. We were going into this competition with other high schools, knowing that they were probably going to perform skits that were light and funny, which they did. When she presented us with the protest, we unanimously agreed that no other school would turn their minds towards this concept. Italian teachers in this school have also faced domestic violence in Italy. We derived inspiration from this,” said Hamm.

“It is easy to say ‘Love Is’, but it’s not easy to say what love is not,” she continued.

In light of the recent Me Too movement, the notion of sexual assault is a monumental topic that has become increasingly powerful in recent years. And although there is an overwhelming influx of support, the concept itself it one that continues to claim lives on an international scale.

The two VPA students used their expertise in their performance-based fields to guide other students in the class. Lexi, a drama major, and Lilly, a creative writing student, used their individual strengths to teach the class of 16 stage techniques, as well as vital conceptual advantages. Regarding the severe nature of the topic, both Lexi and Lilly made it their mission to make sure the message was not only delivered, but received by the audience.

“The most important aspect of performance I had to teach the other students was how to build a connection to your piece,” Hamm said. “There were no characters in the performance, so essentially, the connection was not characterwork. Instead, we were representing a part of a movement. Senora Eagleton delegated me as the student director, so my job was to teach the other students stage rules, especially focus.”

During the performance, students held up blank signs, individually flipping them over to reveal a statistic about Italy’s domestic violence and femicide epidemic. Maintaining a certain disposition that demanded attention throughout the performance was an aspect the students continuously strived to perfect.

“I came in as a freshman creative writing major. I had never performed before. I quickly realized that the performance aspect of writing in this program was crucial. We work a lot on annunciation techniques. Through your words, you want to make sure the message you are conveying has the right emotion. Carrying these skills, as well as the mindset, into the Le Scarpe Rosse movement was very helpful,” said Thygeson.

According to The Local, a European news organization, 2013 was dubbed “The Black Year” after 179 women died from domestic abuse.

“As a high school student who is not in the real world yet, it’s really hard to even fathom the concept of femicide. Italy is the worst first-world country that is affected by domestic violence. One in three women are victims,” said Thygeson.

Although the award-winning presentation takes a stand against Italy’s domestic violence problem, Lexi reiterated the fact these same issues are just as relevant in America.

“Most of the time when you’re getting hit, it’s by someone who said that they love you. We not only said this in the presentation as an established fact, but that is something I’ve known,” Hamm said. “I have personally been affected by domestic violence.”

As a whole, the 16 students used their voices to shed light on a movement that might otherwise never be spoken of.

“We, as American teenagers, have freedom of speech. This is a right that kids and teens in other countries don’t have. The fact that we, as teenagers, are able to spread the word about domestic violence in other countries, why would we not use this freedom to our advantage? We are doing our part by spreading The Red Shoe movement and all the other instances of domestic violence,” said Thygeson.

A tearful Eagelton reflected on the impact her class had made at the competition.

“I am incredibly proud of these students. This is a class that isn’t afraid to talk about what is right,” said Eagelton.

The judges, as well as the audience, were struck by the performance.

“L’amore inizia con noi, love begins with us,” Hamm said.