Dressed in black and white, the performers stood ready to make their case. On the low lit stage of Studio Theatre, Knox students put together a series of several staged readings as a part of the “We’re Not Playing” campaign that originated from the Little Black Dress INK initiative in New York.
The initiative consists of staged readings across the country that involve a similar theme of celebrating women and bringing to awareness issues regarding marginalized groups of people and general acts of injustice.
Seniors Emily Trevor and Jordan Hurst, who coordinated the staged readings, put together the series of eight shows that have all been written by female playwrights.
Hurst noted that they faced difficulties finding enough actors to be parts of the production, but had no difficulties finding a director for each show. Because the mainstage show this year is so large, many actors were already too busy and involved in their performance to audition for the production.
Trevor also noted that they had to develop an understudy program to accommodate those who participated in the Women’s March after Inauguration Day. Students participating in the march were able to leave after one of their performances, and an understudy took their place for the remaining shows.
Trevor described that, as well as celebrating women and bringing issues to awareness, she also used the shows to aid in resisting the incoming administration. She and Hurst said that the shows offered an opportunity for students, whether involved in the show or watching as an audience member, to distract themselves from the inauguration without completely dismissing the reality of it.
“I think a lot of people at Knox are looking for something to do who are feeling against the oncoming administration and against Trump who are scared and angry,” Trevor said. “And this felt like something I knew how to do, and that it was the perfect way to get people talking and sharing perspectives.”
Sophomore Sonya Fleming, who acted in two of the shows in the series, mentioned that the play offered an opportunity for them to do their part in the resistance. Fleming expressed that their struggle with anxiety prevents them from participating in larger protests.
Fleming noted that the show brought a diverse group of people together who maybe were uncertain about how to cope with the social change occurring.
“A lot of us had different goals going in,” Fleming said. “But I think our collective goal was something along the lines of celebrating female playwrights and marginalized people in the inauguration of a ham in a wig.”
Trevor said that, while coordinating the shows had no immediate impact on the political changes, she hoped to create a dialogue and to bring the perspectives of women and other marginalized groups into awareness. She wanted to provide a sense of community for people and a voice to those who feel underrepresented.
“We were sharing perspectives that are unique to certain social identities, and it was cool to hear that seeds were planted and subtle ideas were changed,” Trevor said.
Although Hurst considers the performances to be successful, she feels that the process of using art as a form of resistance be ongoing and should not be an exclusively reactionary process.
“It’s very easy to do something right after something horrible has happened, but it’s hard to keep doing it to prevent a horrible thing from happening again, Hurst said. “This is a thing that needs to be continued, and not something that should end here.”
She expressed that theatre actively engages both actors and audience members in the sense that it portrays specific emotions and experiences in a way that is easily consumed.
“If you have empathy, you can put yourself in the place of the character and experience it while it’s happening in front of you,” Hurst said. “So I think that opens a door where you can have these emotions and engage in a dialogue.”
She noted that theatre provides a space where people can sit in a room with others who are having similar emotions and experiences and to cope with feelings of isolation and loneliness. She also mentioned that theatre has historically been a form of social justice, and she hopes that a lot of art comes from the social changes.
Trevor commented that participating in the performances took a lot of courage from the actors and everyone involved, and that facing these emotions in such a direct manner is a difficult thing to accomplish. To her, theatre is used as a method of validating experiences of marginalized people, and representing them in such a way that provokes a sense of empathy to audience members.
“I think that talking about this stuff and doing anything to oppose the administration takes a lot of energy and emotion and time, but I think it’s really worth it in the end,” she said.