Drama to explore stereotypes

Student-written and directed ‘Social Disease’ to open today

Contributing Writer
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Social Disease: A Devised Project, grew organically out of its cast members’ experiences with stereotypes, societal privileges, and identity issues.

For the past few months, the six-member cast met and discussed different life experiences and stereotypes they had seen.

“We’ve spoken on [stereotypes], come to conclusions on how we could fix them or how they should be represented in society,” cast member William Tolliver, ’14, said.

The devised nature of the show pushed the cast to be both self-reflexive and critical of the larger societal structures at work.

“You start with a group of actors…and you share an idea with the actors. You do exercises, have conversations, readings, and talk about different things to form an original show,” said co-director and co-writer Katie Beck, ’14.

The seed of the project began with Beck at the beginning of the fall semester when she wanted to write a show based around white, male and heterosexual privilege.

In order to encourage the flow of ideas, Beck and co-creator, Blair Hartman, ’14, had the cast participate in theater exercises, such as improvisations and free writes – asking questions such as “What makes you a racist?” The heavy flow of ideas did get the ball rolling, but wasn’t always an easy process.

“Our cast is made up of people with a lot of different identities and so I found that I was comparing myself to other people. It was healthy for the group. We offered our souls,” said cast member Emily Cherry, ’14.

The cast’s discussion of heavy and sometimes emotionally-charged topics encouraged the development of a close-knit bond between the cast.

“In order to have a strong devised piece of theatrical work you need to have a strong bond between the actors and especially on a sensitive subject like this, dealing with privileges and identities,” Beck said.

In addition to privilege and identity, role reversal is one of the production’s major themes.

Typical instances of male, white and straight privilege are depicted in the play and then overturned.

“We depict the opposite of [those privileges] in our scenes to sort of reflect how silly it is, and how ridiculous it is, that anyone would have any kind of privilege based on those aspects of their identity,” Cherry said.

But Beck soon realized she couldn’t write a show around privileges unrelated to her own experiences.

“I thought, ‘I can’t do a reversal of those privileges when I’m not even a male, I’m not even gay. I can’t write about things I don’t know about,'” Beck said.

Beck approached fellow theater major Hartman in October about a possible collaborative devised piece about issues of diversity and privilege.

“The devising process is so interesting and engrossing,” added cast member Lilian Gooden, ’14. “For the first several weeks our rehearsals weren’t rehearsing anything, we were just getting together and getting to know each other…free writing, and really talking about our experiences concerning diversity, or lack thereof.”

Many of the diverse topics examined in this piece come from the cast members’ real experiences.

“Building up to this, we’re all from different backgrounds and to sit in room and share your viewpoint and not have to worry about any criticisms or judgement,” said Tolliver. “It’s really mind blowing, since nobody sits down and talks about these issues.”

The inclusion of cast experience places the actors not only upon the stage but also into the very fabric of the vignettes.

“These are our stories actually, they’ve been dramatized and worked into different works of fiction, but this is us,” Gooden said. “This play’s us.”

Social Disease: A Devised Project, co-directed and co-written by Beck and Hartman, features six cast members and used 12 vignettes to explore issues of societal privilege. Shows will take place in the Arter basement Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m.