Voices of Summer draws a large audience

by Paulomi Rao | 8/18/17 2:40am

The third annual “Voices of Summer” production was held last week, featuring a total of 15 acts. Sponsored by the Office of Pluralism and Leadership, “Voices of Summer,” also known as VoX, is an original production performed by students exploring “how gender intersects with other identities at Dartmouth and beyond,” Paulina Calcaterra ’19, the director of this year’s performance said.

VoX is modeled after the annual winter production “Voices,” a monologue series that is part of the feminist event V-February. Unlike the “Voices” production during the regular school year, which only accepts performances from female-identifying students, VoX is gender inclusive, allowing performances from people of any gender. This year’s show featured monologues, short plays and dance routines performed by both female and male-identifying students.

After directing “Voices” this past winter, Calcaterra was approached by OPAL to direct VoX. One of her main goals as director was to circulate registration forms to organizations on campus, including Greek houses, that are usually less involved with gender-identity conversations, in order to try and ensure that the show was as inclusive as possible.

During the five weeks of rehearsals leading up to the performance, the cast engaged in content-based educational discussions. Specifically, the cast talked about activism on campus, gender stereotypes of biological sexes and gender identity in general.

“Workshopping allowed our writers to take what they know about gender and identity and turn it into a personal narrative that was geared towards social change,” Calcaterra said.

Overall, the cast was pleased with the large turnout for the show and the audience’s active participation during the peices.

“It’s funny, because usually we do these discussions at the end and the people who stay are very self-selecting, who agree with what the cast is thinking,” Calcaterra said. “This is the first time we have had such a divide between what the cast is thinking and what the audience was thinking.”

Calcaterra mentioned that the cast expected a genuine reaction from the audience due to the graphic and delicate content of the show. As director, Calcaterra said that one of the biggest challenges was figuring out how to present the stories in an engaging way, especially with monologues that called out particular groups on campus.

“We expected the reaction to be somewhat heated and defensive, and for the audience to find themselves caught off guard with how polarizing some of the pieces were,” Calcaterra said. “There were definitely some comments that felt a little,‘Wrong place, wrong time,’ but I think overall the cast was pleased with the show.”

Additionally, Calcaterra spoke of positive improvements to the sexual assault prevention initiatives at Dartmouth, especially those under the Moving Dartmouth Forward initiative begun by College President Phil Hanlon in 2015. According to Calcaterra, Dartmouth is pioneering a four-year curriculum on sexual assault prevention that is revolutionary among four-year colleges across the country.

“We are institutionally, on paper, doing a very good job, and culturally, too, people are adopting this language,” Calcaterra said. “But behaviorally, the change is not always there. And even people who are adopting this language, they are still engaging in harmful behaviors and are even being less self-reflective because they think they are sort of ‘down with the cause.’”

Amanda Royek, ’19, another cast member who performed a piece called “Recovery,” expressed a similar perspective.

“I think Dartmouth is moving in the right direction,” she said. “I don’t think any institution is really doing enough, but Dartmouth is definitely doing better.”

Calcaterra noted that VoX in particular tried to acknowledge the subtle ways in which gender-based violence is perpetuated by reaching out to male organizations on campus to maximize diversity and discourse among the cast.

“In the end, we ruffled feathers in a very heavy way,” Calcaterra said. “And so that was good, [because] people are having more discussions, even amongst their friends.”

One of the biggest takeaways for both Calcaterra and Royek was the support of the cast. Neither of them knew the other cast members well before the performance, but they reflected on how tight-knit the group became during practice.

Royek, who was on campus during last year’s production of VoX, noted that the community among last year’s cast was one reason she chose to be a part of this year’s performance.

A member of the Movement Against Violence organization and a Sexual Assault Peer Advocate, Royek said that while she was familiar with the content in a lot of the workshops, the approach VoX chose was refreshing and unique for those who might not have already been well-informed.

“Every experience is different and every group is different, so doing it with VoX alongside people who are queer-identifying or people of color was different from what I got in past experiences, which added a new perspective,” Royek said.

Royek credited the workshops as one of the most helpful tools to navigate her own emotions, which she explored in her skit. According to Royek, the workshops allowed the cast to create a support network that opened up a crucial space for conversations centered around vulnerability and acceptance.

Participant Valentina Garcia Gonzalez ’19 highlighted the experimental style of her performance to be the most important factor in her monologue. Split into five different sections, Valentina hoped to show the continuity of problems discussed in her pieces with other cast members’ stories.

“Being involved with ‘Voices’ was a way to help myself and a power play because I control the scene, what was heard and what was said,” Valentina said. “In those powerless situations, I exerted power over how I showed it to people.”

Valentina hoped that by sharing her story, she would inform students on campus, particularly male students, that topics like sexual assault are not just abstract concepts introduced during academic meetings but real-life stories. One of her biggest goals for the upcoming school year is to ensure that the facilitation and conversations happening across campus this summer will continue in greater capacities.

Several controversial comments toward certain organizations on campus were mentioned at the end of the performance by audience members. Gonzalez noted she found these comments to be “funny.”

“[A student criticizing the singling out] proved himself wrong and us right,” she said. “He took up so much physical, emotional and mental space of the discussion and was more worried about being called out for being in a certain frat than for helping contribute to the greater conversation.”

Royek said that she hopes events like VoX will serve as a catalyst for conversations throughout other organizations on campus. She noted that after the show, many peers reached out to ask how they can help contribute to the conversation.

“One of the most important things is to reach out to your friends who are part of these marginalized communities and start asking them specific questions, shifting from ‘How can I get involved?’ to ‘I really have a question about this specific aspect,’ so we can see that you have put in some work and are genuinely interested,” Royek said.

Outside of VoX, Royek has taken the time to meet with the new Title IX coordinator to help implement new programs and make suggestions for faculty training programs on sexual assault. Royek said she thinks it is particularly important for professors to receive training because studies have found that one of every 10 students has experienced gender-based violence to some extent.

“I hope that VoX and programs like it continue to have a ripple effect on our campus, so that people who are involved and people who witness the show can spread the conversation outside into their social spheres and not let these ideas escape from our minds among the craziness that Dartmouth brings academically, athletically and in all extracurriculars,” Royek said. “These ideas need to be at the forefront of our thoughts, and the reality for so many students is that they don’t have the luxury of not thinking about them. I hope that other students recognize that and incorporate it into their daily routines as well.”