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'Unplugged' performance to tackle rape, suicide
by Melissa Wasserman

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Paul McComas and Maya Kuper will rock against rape, depression and suicide with their performance of "Unplugged" at the Evanston venue 27 Live on Tuesday, Oct. 21, at 7 p.m.

McComas' Unplugged was published in 2002 as a novel. McComas said he envisioned from the beginning that the story would eventually jump off the pages. The novel, performance and screenplay tell the story of the troubled 27-year-old bisexual, alternative rocker and rape survivor Dayna Clay.

As Clay's career is skyrocketing, her psyche is spiraling down. In a depression, she tries to take her own life. Disappearing on a solitary journey into the South Dakota Badlands, the protagonist undergoes a spiritual transformation. She faces the subsequent struggle with depression, comes to terms with her traumatic childhood, secures inner peace and reaches out to others who are in crisis.

"It's a novel about rape, depression, healing and uncovering," said McComas. "I don't use the word recovering because you don't return to who you are with that kind of trauma. Uncovering implies uncovering who you are now informed by these experiences. "In terms if the sexuality and her bi sexuality, I didn't know her sexuality when I started to write," said McComas. "I always tell my writing students, be open to the process, see where the journey takes you, let your protagonist lead you because that's your unconscious."

Educator, lecturer, filmmaker, writer, producer, musician and actor McComas is a straight man. He has worked with Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network ( RAINN ), co-founded by Tori Amos, for 12 years and serves on its National Leadership Council and Speakers Bureau.

Writing a feminist novel with woman's perspective, McComas said he did not have to make any adjustments. He came of age during the women's movement mid to late '70s, which he explained was front and center during his identity formation as a man.

"It's inspired by actual life experiences, but that can't be where it stops," said McComas of authoring Unplugged. "It then has to be formed by imagination and artifice and our belief system, our values and our progressivism. I try not to be didactic, but there are messages in this piece that come through not as editorial page essays, but through characters in the story line. All you have to do is tell Dayna's story honestly, candidly and you are engaging in progressive activism on a number of fronts."

Kuper voices the main character and is also an ally. By day she works as an audio engineer and film sound editor. Her voice plays a major role in the project and she has also written some of the story's original songs. Although she is unable to relate to the character she voices, she said the story helps her to understand what might be going through the mind of somebody who is depressed and suicidal.

"This book in one way is about, going off the grid, going in cognito, stepping outside yourself and then discovering who you actually are…" said Kuper. "And then going back to who you really are and things are different, they're not back the way they were before because you didn't recover, you uncovered who it was you were meant to be in the first place. That's why it's unplugged."

While she was working in an Evanston recording studio in 2008, McComas came in with a shoebox full of cassette tapes he wanted digitize onto CDs. Taking the decades of McComas' musical career, they edited, added new parts, rewrote and added new lyrics where Kuper sings backup. Since then, the two have clicked, formed their performing partnership, and launched the "Unplugged" reboot. McComas calls her "sis," describing Kuper as the kid sister he always wanted, especially being the youngest of four kids.

"Mostly our collaborations have been at the nexus of, on the one hand, performing arts and, on the other hand, social outreach on behalf of progressive causes and healing," said McComas. "Time and again that's where we've ended up working together and the "Unplugged" project is the pinnacle so far of our collaboration."

McComas and Kuper will perform with guitarist and flutist Mike Holden and drummer Justin Marsh. The Evanston show will also include the debut of the woman-to-woman love song titled "Jack-o'-Lantern," which comes from the pages of "Unplugged" and lyrics by Kuper.

Former U.S. Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy ( D-Rhode Island ) is slated to speak at the event, which will benefit RAINN and Kennedy's non-profit One Mind, which he co-founded with mental-health advocates Garen and Shari Staglin to benefit those affected by brain illness and injury. Also speaking at the event is State Senator Lena Taylor ( D-Wisconsin ), founder of the anti-rape Denim Quilt project and an "Unplugged" supporter.

A mental-health professional will be at the event for the post-show Q&A session. Also, McComas and Kuper will sign the novel, its soundtrack CD, T-shirts and more.

"The issues this project brings up are things that people don't talk about," said Kuper. "Suicide, rape, child abuse, confronting one's own sexuality and questioning one's identity, and coming to grips with your religion. We bring them all just right out on front street when we do this show. When we tell an engaging story about a fictional character and play music in her voice, we draw people into the point where they might not even be aware that they're opening their mind up. They are. That's our whole goal."

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