‘Voices’ showcases moving messages about gender and power

by Emily Zhang | 3/3/20 2:05am

Hundreds of students, staff and community members gathered in Spaulding Auditorium on Wednesday to see the seventh-annual show of Voices, a student-led performance that centers narratives and people at the intersections of gender, power, violence and resilience. Twenty-eight monologues were performed by over 25 cast members, touching a wide range of issues from sexual assault and self-harm to women-of-color and sexual-minority experiences.

Voices is one of the two main productions in the Visibility: 2020 campaign this year. Formerly known as V-February, Visibility: 2020 is an annual campaign at Dartmouth dedicated to promoting gender equity and ending gender and power based violence on campus since 1998. According to campaign committee co-chair Rebecca Luo ’20, V-February at Dartmouth has historically had a reputation of being centered on white, upper-class, cisgender heterosexual women. This year, the campaign planning committee focused on promoting the inclusiveness and intersectionality of the campaign with the goal of broadening the scope of how people understand gender, according to Luo.

“One of the reasons why we changed the name from the V-February to Visibility was because the V in V-February historically stands for vagina, and we recognize that not all women have a vagina and we didn’t want to equate biology with gender,” Luo said. “We really want to avoid those kinds of reductionist stereotypes because anyone can really be a victim or a survivor of sexual violence.”

According to Voices co-director Madeline Levangie ’21, the production of Voices was initially inspired by Eve Ensler’s play “The Vagina Monologues,” which was developed in the 1990s to explore female sexuality and the social stigma surrounding sexual violence. Unlike past years when both “The Vagina Monologues” and Voices are part of the campaign, this year the campaign has decided to only perform Voices, hoping to increase the representation of women, trans and nonbinary people on campus.

“Voices gives a platform for students who otherwise may be silenced or not heard to share their stories to a really large audience,” Levangie said. 

Co-director Jane Xu ’20 said that one of the most challenging tasks in directing Voices is to find a diverse cast. This year, the group have managed to get more people involved in the production by reaching out to different identity-based groups on campus, according to Xu.

“It was really important to find a diverse cast and have as many people share as possible, and I’m really proud and excited about the diversity of our cast this year,” Xu said.

During the show, while some performers chose to talk about heavy topics in a humorous or satiric way, stirring waves of laughter among the audience, others relentlessly uncovered some alarming trends in campus social scenes that trouble their everyday life, leaving the audience to ponder over the heavy message underneath.

For instance, Katie Kong ’23 wrote and performed a monologue titled, “No More Fish Poetry,” in which she critically examines her Asian American identity beyond some stereotypical representations that used to confine her own understanding of herself, such as food and family. Inspired by a friend, Kong said she decided to tear down some labels she used to put on herself with a monologue.

“It was not until months ago that I realized I was part of the problem,” Kong said.

Kong said performers in Voices are brave to share their personal experiences and expose alarming issues related to campus social scenes that she did not have the chance to discuss with others during her everyday life. 

“Even though it seems that everyone at this school has their lives together and they’re so on top of things, a lot of people on the inside are struggling underneath,” Kong said. “I feel like there are a lot of unspoken societal pressures at Dartmouth, so this particular production of Voices could point that out and hopefully people at Dartmouth will feel empowered to fix our culture.”

While some performers like Kong wrote and performed their own works, other performers presented pieces submitted by anonymous writers. For example, Angeline Janumala ’22 chose to perform two anonymous pieces on the show — “Catch 22,” which centers around bisexuality experiences on dating apps, and “Virgin Who Can’t Drive,” which is about virginity and hookup culture on campus.

“I didn’t know who wrote [the two pieces I performed], but they seem like something that I could have been thinking about when I was going through those experiences,” Janumala said. “I want to tell them with confidence and bring them to my voice, and I don’t feel like it’s too much of a reach to perform.”

Janumala said that performers and directors in Voices also help each other a lot through the process of rehearsing and improving their performances.

“Writing a piece in the company of other people in Voices is the best way to make it relatable to the rest of the community,” Janumala said. “It was just inspiring to see people performing a piece for the first time with a kind of anxiety and eventually getting comfortable performing on stage.”

The performance was followed by a question-and-answer session with the cast and the directors, in which the audience was provided an opportunity to engage with people involved in the show. Some topics discussed included what performers have learned from Voices, how the directors coordinate with different offices and resources on campus, as well as how the production ensures the anonymity of writers who do not feel comfortable sharing their information.

“Many topics that are written about can be very personal, vulnerable and emotionally heavy, so it definitely is challenging to hold all of that while also trying to make logistical decisions,” Levangie said.

Visibility campaign co-chair Sara Cho ’20 said she values how working in the campaign committee and productions like Voices connects her to passionate peers and mentors on campus that she otherwise would not have the chance to meet. 

“I do think by the nature of the topic, it can be sometimes a difficult conversation to have,” Cho said. “But I think it is very meaningful to be a part of making this campus a better and safer place for everyone, and it is a learning process.”

Levangie said that going from being in the audience of Voices in her freshman year to directing it in her junior year, she has grown a lot with the production and hopes that Voices can continue to make an impact on the student body.

“Seeing Voices in my freshman year made me know that I wasn’t alone for the things that I was dealing with,” Levangie said. “No matter what a piece is about, there’s always somebody in the audience who can connect with that and hopefully the piece will make an impact on their lives.”

Upstaging Stereotypes, another major production in Visibility: 2020 that focuses on masculinity, will take place on March 4 in Collis Common Ground.