LEWISTON — She was Stan the Man with slick street patter, an anxious father who wished he'd said the right thing and Virgin Larry who didn't want to believe his friend had raped one girl, maybe even two.
Cathy Plourde read the parts from her play, "You the Man," and warned her Great Falls Forum audience in the public library on Thursday about the content. Since the playwright founded Add Verb Productions in 2000, "You the Man," about dating violence, and "The Thin Line," about eating disorders, have been performed in schools around the country, seen by 150,000 people in 35 states.
She's in talks to take them to Australia.
Key to having her characters relate to teens is not having her people ready with answers, she said. There is no, "This is what you do."
"The other piece is they are desperate to have someone to talk about this stuff," said Plourde, of Portland. "No one is."
Performances weave prevention and intervention. After shows, a panel of local advocates and experts answer questions and offer places to turn.
Plourde penned her first play at age 14. She worked in the children's section of a library and a teacher asked if she could write about dental hygiene for fourth-graders. "The Adventures of Plaque Man" was born.
As an adult, Plourde said she became more interested in social causes, health care and welfare reform.
"I've been grappling with the best way to use theater to take over the world," she said.
In one of the first readings of "The Thin Line," Plourde said she received valuable feedback from one teen:
"'We know our friends are dealing with it; we don't know what to do about it,'" Plourde said. "When a play is done, an actor is an actor, a play is a play, they go away and people are left with their issues."
That led to incorporating the post-show panel and curriculum for teachers.
In writing, she said she spoke to doctors, other professionals and advocates, using them to inspire pieces of characters. She avoided "shock-you drama," she said. "If you want people do to something, they kind of need to not be crying, be traumatized."
Plourde is wrapping up a three-year study of ninth-graders in Maine, surveying them pre- and post-performance, then following up in 10th and 11th grades. She said she's found an elevated understanding of the issues and an elevated likelihood of taking action.
She's adapting another play, "Major Medical Breakthrough," into an online course for medical professionals, for later this spring. It's also about domestic violence and grappling with sensitive questions.
For the past year, Add Verb Productions has been a program of the University of New England.
"I have written really rude, funny, childish stuff, as well," Plourde said. "Don't worry about my mental health."