Photos by Kimberly Williams (C’17)
By Page Forrest
The Fifth Annual Sewanee Monologues, hosted on February 22, saw a shift from the show’s traditional anonymous format. In previous years most of the monologues were performed by a designated actor and the author’s identity was kept hidden. However, this year many writers chose to perform their own pieces. Out of the twenty-five monologues performed, not including the introduction and conclusion, fifteen authors read their original pieces.
The event, based on The Vagina Monologues by Eve Ensler, is a collection of Sewanee stories, submitted each year by students about their experiences. Due to the need for new material every year, the intensive process of bringing Sewanee Monologues to life starts early. One of the Wick co-directors, Jan DeLozier (C’16), explains the creative process as such: “The organization of the Monologues is threefold: first, we host Writing Workshops during the first semester, encouraging students to join us in the process of writing a Monologue. Next, we call for submissions and performers, always encouraging students to read their own stories, claiming their own experience, if they feel so inclined. Then, after the Monologues performance, we continue the discussion by hosting our #NoFilter conversation series. All of these steps are crucial in guaranteeing a successful, well-organized Sewanee Monologues.”
Monday night, students gathered in Guerry Auditorium. Topics ranged from more light-hearted tales of coming in the Fowler Training Room hot tub to more serious discussions of sexual assault and race. The lack of accurate sex education in the United States and the way we frame sex proved to be a popular and important theme, addressed by many, including Rachel Chu (C’17) and co-director of the Women’s Center, Kathryn Willgus (C’16). Kirk Murphy (C’17), as well as Davante Jennings (C’16), Desiree Samuel (C’16),and Madison Leathers (C’16), addressed black culture and racism in the United States as a whole as well as Sewanee. Murphy specifically called out the Honor Council, asking them to do better in meting out fair punishments. The line resonated with the audience so deeply that Murphy repeated it for emphasis.
An emotional surprise arrived in the form of Justus Bell, a former Sewanee student, who now attends the University of Tennessee and performed a monologue titled “What I Miss About Sewanee.” The piece, a love letter to the University of the South, was bittersweet and all too real for members of the audience whose time to leave Sewanee quickly approaches.
Overall, the night felt as though it were a success. Willgus says, “I thought that Sewanee Monologues went really well this year. Showcasing the lived experience and varied realities of the student body is important for so many reasons. It allows many students to understand experiences that are not their own, challenges that status quo of the community, and provides a platform for the voices of students–many of whom seek release and closure from sharing their stories. Creating and maintaining an event that engages the community and encourages honest conversation, especially on difficult topics, will never be unimportant.” While the change from the vastly anonymous format of years past drew some criticism, many students reminded the community that it’s important to make sure people feel comfortable sharing their stories. Ashlin Ondrusek (C’19), a freshman who attended Sewanee Monologues for the first time this year, says “Sewanee Monologues was not quite what I thought it would be, but in a good way. The humorous monologues diffused the more emotionally charged pieces, and the moving monologues made it a really impactful experience.”
The tradition of Sewanee Monologues continues to bring important conversations to the forefront of the community’s collective conscious, but never fails to draw at least a few laughs. As generations of new students are welcomed into the university, their stories will hopefully be told, and Sewanee will continue to grow into its voice.