Dialogues about oppression

Student theatre groups do collaborative performance

By Peter Chhum | 4/16/14 8:14pm

An act of discrimination is commonly the result of prejudicial treatment in regard to one’s race, gender or age, among other factors. However, it is not always based on a single category. Unknowingly, these classifications often meet at an intersection, a point where judgments on these grounds merge. It is also the place where the student groups Act on Racism and ReACT! connect.

“Act Up: Dialogues Abut Oppression” showcased the first collaborative performance of the two Grand Valley State University theatre groups in part of “Intersections.” The combined series of programs was organized by the Women’s Center, LGBT Resource Center and Office of Multicultural Affairs to recognize and celebrate intersecting identities on campus.

The event was based on the concept of intersectionality, the study of intersecting forms of oppression and discrimination regarding race, class, gender and sexuality.

“These are categories of difference that we sort ourselves and sort each other into,” said Jennifer Stewart, professor of sociology at GVSU. “You’re either black or white, gay or straight, male or female, rich or poor. That really hides the reality of what we experience. It’s also the case why we recognize these categories as different from each other. Intersectionality is about the idea where no one category captures our experience. Depending on what context we’re in, sometimes race is more important than gender. Other times, gender is more important than race.”

The theme of the event was to display the adjoining of distinct personal classifications that lead to systems of oppression. The message was also delivered through the live performance.

ReACT! is a student group that is in partnership with the Women’s Center and is funded by the Violence Against Women Act Grant. The students involved use interactive theatre to peer educate about assault and relationship violence based on real-life stories and research. Correspondingly, Act on Racism uses theatre to showcase real-life experiences to discuss manifestations of race and racism.

The two groups combined their specializations to highlight both real-life situations and social trends in the form of skits. One particular act covered the topics of stereotyping gender roles considering academic majors. In the sketch, a student posed the question, “Wait, you’re a guy and a nursing major? You’re going into it because you get to be around females, right?”

Another skit expounded on victim blaming in regard to rape and sexual assault. It showed the actors questioning a rape victim asking, “Well, what were you wearing? Were you drunk? Were you with people you knew?” Together, the groups displayed a balance between intensity and levity.

“In both of these groups, we are dealing with theatre and scenes, which made perfect sense to partner up with another group that exercises theatre,” said Alli Metz, educational theatre professor. “We bring skits that have been researched and studied, and they incorporate their own personal life stories to the group and bring them to life through performance.”

The two groups used this platform to inspire thought and dialogue.

“These two groups have these performances and it is so life-infusing,” said Mary-Louise Ott, an audience member. “The stories are unbelievable. The stories and the dialogue these groups create are so truthful and so honest. Out there in the world, it’s not always truthful and honest.”


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