Fighting domestic abuse through theatre

WOBURN - A local charity is doing its best to eradicate domestic violence and sexual assaults amongst both civilian and military populations.

According to Sher Quaday, the Executive Director for Stoneham-based Deana's Fund, which also has roots in Woburn, she just recently returned from an overseas trip to Germany and Turkey, where the non-profit put on several performances targeting dating and sexual violence.

Deana's Fund, also known as Deana's Educational Theater, acts to prevent violence through several innovative performances and is a recognized leader in creating theater programs for grades K-12, colleges, the military, and communities around the United States and abroad.

The recent tour abroad for military personnel also entailed trips to the Azores and to England.

Founded in 1994, Deana's Fund just recently formed its partnership with the U.S. Airforce, although the organization has been spreading its message through theater performances around the nation since its inception.

"Most of our performances get the conversation going and help provide information about some of the warning signs. They also talk about what the Airforce calls wingmen, or what we call bystanders. It helps everybody recognize that there are warning signs," said Quaday.

"For young people, and adults too, we're bombarded by media. And your powerpoint presentations and even your videos just don't have the same impact as having a live person in front of you," the executive director responded, when asked why she felt theater was such a good medium for relaying the message.

Deana's Fund was founded in memory of 23-year-old Topsfield resident Deana Brisbois, who perished in a April of 2004 car crash that her friends and family suspect was related to domestic violence.

The young woman, who died in Brockton, had reportedly been in an abusive relationship for two years with a man, who reportedly fled the car wreck and waited for over nine hours before he sought treatment for his girlfriend.

After her death, her abuser was jailed for two years on 32 unrelated assault and battery charges, which were brought from five separate counties across the state.

According to Deana's friends, she first obtained an emergency restraining order against her abuser after she was beaten in 1993.

In the years to come, amongst other incidents, she received medical treatment after being thrown out of a moving vehicle, and was almost run off the road by her abuser, who was charged by Peabody police for that incident.

After a golf tournament in the summer of 1994, Deana's Fund was launched, in order to provide those in an abusive relationship, potential abusers, and friends and family of victims with the tools to prevent and avoid entanglement in such relationships.

"Her friends donated the money to prevent what happened to her from happening to anyone else," Quaday explained. "[Two people] developed a play called The Yellow Dress and it debuted in 1995. And the organization learned that it was a great way to reach out to youth."

Deana's Fund, which has since started performing other plays, such as Remote Control, has also recently started tweaking its message to target harassment and bullying issues.

According to the executive director, she sees many ties between bullying and harassment and domestic violence, especially since many abusive relationships have their roots in verbal and emotional abuse.

"The typical dating or domestic violence relationship doesn't start out with physical violence. It probably starts out with more verbal abuse, name calling, and then becomes more emotional," Quaday explained.

To learn more about Deana's Fund, or to donate to the cause, logon to, or call 781-935-7878. The organization can also be reached by writing to: Deana's Fund, 52B Cummings Park, Suite 319, Woburn, MA, 01801.

© 2000 Woburn Daily Times Inc.