Those on west campus last weekend, probably noticed it was jam-packed with more activities than normal. The older crowds clutching Duke Store bags signaled that Alumni Weekend events were in full swing. The brightly colored garb and dancing on main quad drew people milling around in the balmy April weather into a powwow hosted by the Native American Student Alliance. And, to the point of today’s editorial, one of Duke’s premier theatrical productions, All of the Above, performed on East Campus in White Lecture Hall. All of the Above is an annual performance of monologues about the multifaceted experience of being female at Duke, written and acted out by female students.
The event is not alone in trying to shine a light on the female experience at Duke, but it is special in how it does so. Groups with similar foci often seek to hold brightly themed events or bring big-name speakers to campus. Their reasoning for doing so is sound. If they can announce that Arianna Huffington is headlining an event, students will flock to it and the group hosting the event will be able to propagate their message to a wider range of people. But a week after Arianna Huffington has delivered an address, her words will have faded from the memories of all but the most attentive. That is not because those who listened to her do not care about the meaning of her words, but rather because they lack tie-in and grounding for those words. Events like All of the Above fulfill that same mission, but also manages to create such tie-in.
Instead of relying on big names or provocative titles, the All of the Above draws on intimate student testimonials and stories. Its power comes from connecting its audience to the deeply emotional and personal stories of their peers. When an actress performs a monologue about how an asexual female student feels like she is being left out of the Duke student experience because her friends fail to understand her circumstances, the actress forces audience members to acknowledge that that scenario exists in their community and hopefully lights a fire in them to resolve it. Storytelling through monologues is an exceptionally powerful medium for transmitting messages, and All of the Above does well to use it so.
Unfortunately, because the messages focus on the experiences of a distinct subset of the Duke community—women—they tend not to be heard by members of the community not in that subset—in this case, men. Considering the importance and mottled status of gender relations on campus, that ought to be resolved. We hesitate to call for the organizers of All of the Above to further burden themselves by directing outreach and marketing for their event towards men, but believe doing so would well serve the goal of the show—promoting a widespread understanding of the multifaceted female experience at Duke. There are other ways to expand the audience of the show, though. When Me Too Monologues was getting of the ground, the production paired with the Kenan Institute for Ethics and the Center for Race Relations; by aligning itself with established, well-known institutions, it was able to quickly take off and become a campus institution itself. All of the Above could easily do the same.
Regardless of how the producers, organizers and actresses of the show proceed in the future though, they ought to be congratulated and thanked for their service to the university. Through years of performance, they have given voice to the quiet on campus and broken through the false veneer of the feminine mystique.
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