By Lauren Minore
In recent months, students across the country have been able to say, “Me too” when it comes to social issues like mental health and sexual harassment.
On April 12, senior musical theater major and director of the “Me Too Monologues” Kara Jönsson shed light on this growing phenomenon.
Founded at Duke in 2009, the “Me Too Monologues” is new to Rider this year but will become an annual tradition sponsored by the Student Government Association (SGA), according to former SGA president and senior English major John Modica.
Jönsson’s adaptation served as a platform to openly discuss mental health and sexual harassment. The monologues about real stories and experiences were anonymously submitted by Rider students, then chosen and edited by the production team.
“The concept is students having stories and situations, and other students having them too,” Jönsson said. “I think every campus needs some kind of communication.”
The show opened with an ensemble piece about body image and insecurities, entitled “Spider Webs & Lace,” written by senior musical theater major Kayla Matters.
As each individual actor spoke, beginning with, “There once was a boy” or “There once was a girl,” the lines detailed familiar stories young adults face, such as low self-esteem and the negative influences of social media.
“When I was sitting in the audience listening to the stories, there were many times where I thought, ‘Oh that’s my story too’ or ‘I have dealt with that in my life,’” junior film, television and radio major Paige Ewing said. “The incorporation of so many different topics and mediums of performance allowed [the production] to reach so many different people.”
The cast recited, “She wears her spider webs like battle scars,” while moving in choreographed synchronization as a group. Spider webs were used as an analogy for stretch marks, a common source of body insecurity for women and men alike.
“I Don’t Condone Suicide,” a chilling monologue about a suicide attempt, was performed by sophomore musical theater major Patrice Hrabowskie.
Audience members were captivated by Hrabowskie’s standout performance and her ability to convey the intensity and the vulnerability of this account.
“I was ready to give up the smell of coffee, of Windex,” she declared. “I was ready to say goodbye to the sun.”
Paying careful attention to the emotional trauma susceptible to the actors, Jönsson said she reminded her cast that these stories were not about “wallowing” over the subject matters, but showing how one can overcome such battles.
“As Men,” an ensemble piece featuring freshmen musical theater majors Dylan Erdelyi, Brad Weatherford and Maclean Kennedy, acknowledged the pressures of masculinity.
This piece called to encourage young men to continue fighting the “like a girl,” “toughen up,” and “be a man” stigmas and reminded audience members of the effect these stereotypes can pose on one’s self-esteem.
Freshman musical theater major Katie Collins said, “I struggle with mental health issues, and it was cool to see a piece where this was all discussed so openly. [It gave] me confidence to share what I go through and not be ashamed of it.”
After intermission, the second act opened with a “Me Too” video, which encapsulated the themes of Jönsson’s production.
The video — which featured clips of singer Halsey’s moving poem at the 2018 Women’s March in New York City, the American Olympic women’s gymnastics team testifying at the Larry Nassar court case and pop singer Ke$ha’s “Praying” music video — culminated the very essence of this production: the strength and power in unity.
“[The video was] an emotional part of the rehearsal process when everyone in the cast finally felt connected to the piece,” said freshman musical theater major Georgia VanRy.
Audiences watched in awe as junior acting major Jacey Schult delivered the monologue “I Want it Back,” which recalled a painful, heart-wrenching and abusive sexual encounter.
Schult’s monologue detailed the severe trust issues and insecurities her character faces long after the traumatic experience.
“I cried so many times,” said freshman musical theater major Grace Deedrick. “There was something in here everyone could relate to.”
Jönsson’s interpretation of the “Me Too Monologues” unified audience members. The emotional capability of the cast, the unique and creative vision for the show, and the willingness to accept these real stories brought a newfound sense of “renewed pride and hope” to the Rider community, she said.
“The idea is that no one is alone,” she said. “There is always someone feeling the same way, and there is someone always willing to help.”
Published in the 4/18/18 edition.