When Keith Mascoll was struggling, he turned to art to cope. And he quickly realized it could help others as well. In 2018, the Cambridge actor and mental health advocate founded The Triggered Project, a series of creative endeavors designed to help men of color who are survivors of sexual abuse.
“We are shattering the silence and nurturing the healing of Black and brown male survivors with the use of art,” Mascoll said in a recent video interview.
The project launched with “Triggered Life: A Requiem of Healing,” Mascoll’s one-man show written and directed by John Oluwole ADEkoje. It premiered in 2018 at Hibernian Hall in Roxbury, with a motion picture/live stage hybrid production this spring at Oregon’s Portland Playhouse. Mascoll said he plans to enter the show into a film festival in the future.
Except he wouldn’t exactly classify “Triggered” as a show. It’s more of an experience, he said. The work requires juggling the roles of two characters, Keith and Ishmael, as they dissect the trauma of sexually abusive childhoods. As a survivor himself, Mascoll’s monologue is a real account. Ishmael’s character is a composite, representing “men that can’t speak and haven’t spoken yet,” Mascoll explained.
The 90-minute production is split into two acts, with the second half reserved for a talkback led by mental health professionals. “We try to move the system of care to recognize and understand that Black and brown men have not been identified as a population that we cater to or serve,” said psychotherapist Roxann Mascoll, the project’s lead clinician and also Keith’s wife.
Not only can audience members ask questions, but they can — and are encouraged to — share reactions and feelings. At several showings, “Triggered” moved men to disclose their own stories for the first time, despite being surrounded by a sea of strangers.
“It wasn’t like they were sharing in front of 200 people,” Mascoll said. “It was like they were just telling us — and that’s huge.”
Over three years, The Triggered Project has grown to incorporate more shows and creative elements. Mascoll recently collaborated with ADEkoje on another theater project, this one called “Empty Frames.” The digital monologue, released earlier this year, was a part of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum’s Luminary Lens series and tells of the emptiness many sexual abuse survivors feel.
“I also wanted to make the statement about how in the Black and brown communities, and in other communities as well, how art has been stolen,” Mascoll said, drawing a parallel between cultural appropriation and the 1990 Gardner Museum heist. “For the museum to stand behind that work and allow me to make that analogy was amazing and a blessing.”
Also in The Triggered Project toolbox is the Inner Monologue Sneaker Art Project. As a sneakerhead, Mascoll seeks to integrate his love of shoes and his work helping survivors create their own monologues. And last May, the Mascolls launched the “Living a Triggered Life” podcast, where the couple discusses how they navigate marriage as survivors of trauma. Later this year, they plan to record a live episode at the Museum of Science.
The podcast puts their personalities on full display, with jokes and laughter sprinkled in-between talk of darker matters. Roxann said the inspiration came from friends constantly asking how they managed to stay together so long.
“We often start with how we went to individual therapy,” she said. “Their initial response is surprise, then silence about therapy.”
Stigma can make sexual abuse and mental health difficult to discuss, but the goal through all elements of The Triggered Project is to “have the difficult conversation that the Black and brown community doesn’t want to have about our men being abused,” Mascoll said. He also advocates for protecting boys in much the same way as girls by educating them on what is and is not acceptable.
As for himself, Mascoll said his abuser used to control the narrative he told himself, but The Triggered Project has allowed him to take charge and even evolve that story.
“I’m getting stronger as a person, getting to be a better husband, a better artist,” Mascoll said in summary. “When your spirit is clear, that’s when true creativity happens.”
THE COVID MONOLOGUES
Riana Buchman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.