"I am an empowered woman, empowering women."
These were the last words of Goshen Monologues, spoken by 35 women in a room filled to capacity Tuesday evening.
The Monologues, a series of personal stories written and performed by Goshen College students, faculty and staff women, premiered in a two-hour show in Umble Center. The audience of 446 in Umble and an overflow of 19 in the Yost room, who watched a live stream, ended on their feet.
Stories were told as individual, partner or group monologues, and divided into five sections, including imparity, body, assault, relationship and identity. Each dealt with a wide range of issues, such as empowerment, cultural standards of beauty, gender inequality, gender identity, catcalls, rape and assault, eating disorders and the Divine.
Lauren Treiber, a senior peace, justice and conflict studies major, was the force behind the show, acting as coordinator, script-writer and director for the last 22 months. She came up with the idea last May, and along with a planning team of 12 others, put out an invitation in the fall for stories from all women on campus.
“At the end of junior year, I started to realize that I can’t be a person that makes bold statements about injustice in the broader world if I don’t address where they exist in my open context and own community,” Treiber said. “As a person who loves written and spoken word, I love seeing people tell stories rather than simply writing them. I wanted to hear what my community had to say.”
The Monologues left 3x5 notecards everywhere and encouraged women to submit anonymous letters that told stories and experiences of womanhood, both the difficult and the sacred. Stories flooded in as poetry, long prose, letters written to younger and future selves or mothers. By last semester’s end, the Monologues had 50 submissions. “Most importantly,” Treiber told the audience Tuesday, “they are all true.”
After collecting submissions, Treiber turned the stories into a script, cutting only for length or clarity. The Monologues then issued another invitation for all women on campus interested in performing. Thirty-five women, including students, professors and staff, elected to be in the cast.
Elizabeth Derstine, a sophomore, had a powerful experience being “a vessel for stories.”
“It was the most inspiring group of women I’ve ever been around,” Derstine said.
The group met once a week to rehearse beginning in March and only did one complete run-through in Umble on Monday. As the auditorium filled on Tuesday, the women sat a prayer circle and sung hymns before the performance.
Anna van der Zwaag, a junior, said memorization helped her understand the woman who wrote her monologue.
“I don’t think I’ve ever experienced something so unifying and powerful,” van der Zwaag said. “It exceeded my expectations to work not only with students but also with faculty. It helped me see my professors in a new light.”
One of those professors was Regina Shands Stoltzfus, assistant professor of peace, justice and conflict studies, who served as faculty advisor. She was previously involved with Michiana Monologues.
“Faculty got this extraordinary opportunity to be part of this student-led experience,” said Shands Stoltzfus. “To be in that space with all of that energy and laughter and pain is indescribable, but really important. I am hoping and praying and expecting that this will go on.”
The 2014 Monologues were performed only once. As such, other activities on campus were put on hold. Hymn Club was moved, the Rock Wall closed, and Chad Coleman, director of residence life, made the decision to move the housing selection meeting to a later time when he found out the Monologues were also scheduled to accommodate students who wanted to participate or attend.
Attendance was so strong that Treiber decided to open Yost room to the public ten minutes before curtain, in the space where the cast had gathered.
“I went back and the entire cast was in a circle praying and holding hands,” Treiber said. “That’s what the whole night was like – watching an entire community spontaneously come together to throw doors open.”
For those who missed the event, a documentary is in the works by Abby Deaton, a junior. She began the project for a film class, but as soon as she started filming “at the call-out meeting for casting, I realized that this project was going to be way bigger than that,” Deaton said.
Deaton filmed rehearsals and interviewed cast members for a behind-the-scenes documentary. She also plans to release a video of the performance.
“This has been the most life giving video project I've ever been blessed to work on,” Deaton said. “Usually as a videographer, I feel like I am outside of the group that I am filming, that I'm very separate. These women treated me like I was a part of the cast.”
Treiber plans to find a new steering committee for next year so that the project “can exist every year from now on,” Treiber said. “To those people who sent in their stories—you have mobilized and inspired countless people. You own this project. It’s yours.”
Goshen Monologues will host Dessert & Dialogue from 6 to 8 p.m. this Friday to continue discussion. Email firstname.lastname@example.org if interested.