by Margaret Culver and Amanda Pina
The State College community has recently been branded as one that is un-accepting and unwilling to take responsibility for the lack of decisive action in the face of sex abuse. While some residents may say it is unfair to categorize an entire town by the actions of a few wrong-doers, the Centre County community has been struggling to recover from those accusations and confront the issues of sexual assault, sexual identification, bullying and how to recover.
To begin the healing and renewal, there must be conversation. Since 2007, Penn State’s “Cultural Conversations” has been challenging the community to begin a discussion and take action through a festival of dance, visual arts and theatre. It is designed to draw attention to the issues of local and global diversity with interactive programs for all ages.
In a society where sensitive issues are talked about behind closed doors, in hushed voices, the contributors to Cultural Conversations strive to openly discuss and bring to light some of the major issues that are being swept under the rug on a local and global scale. It is the hope of all those involved in Cultural Conversations that the plays, visual arts, and theatre productions presented will engender conversation and bring awareness to such issues as personal identification, LBGT concerns, sexual abuse and many more.
It is crucial that these issues be talked about and identified so that society can learn from its history and create a brighter future full of opportunity and equality. Cultural Conversations is a chance to question current beliefs and gain a new perspective on some of the essential issues that society is confronted with on a daily basis.
Susan Russell serves as the Artistic Director of Cultural Conversations and is an Assistant Professor in the School of Theatre at Penn State. Dr. Russell has a twenty-five year career as a professional actor on and off-Broadway as well as a career working in regional theatre and opera companies across the country. Last year, Russell was honored with the 2012 Penn State Commission for Women Faculty Award at Penn State. For her, Cultural Conversations is a platform for people to tell real, concrete stories relatable to us—sexuality, bullying, and child sexual assault in a public forum through performing arts.
“At Cultural Conversations, we create power in a world where you feel powerless,” said Russell. “There are young voices, and there are adult voices. Ultimately, there is nothing more glacial than the pace of cultural change. No issue is outside of a demographic. We attract school board administrators, teachers, parents, kids and university students. All come to watch and listen, and all participate. When you offer a community a place to tell their stories through the stage, you can engage problem solving, which leads to recovery and redefinition. It helps us all toward healing through empathizing, to end violence as one of our cultural languages.”
Cultural Conversations is a collaboration of undergraduates, graduates, professors, professionals, high school students and community members. One such student offers some insight into the production.
Rob Montgomery is a student at Penn State who is directing a student-written play titled “Full Gay House,” which is, in his own words, “a commentary on family, selfishness, and faith and discovering where truth lies in the midst of that.”
This is Montgomery’s first year directing a play at this festival and said he is thrilled to be a part of it. He has watched the festival over the past few years and said he was “intrigued by the range of powerful social and political stances taken by the students and creators involved in the projects.”
Pamela Monk serves as a playwright and storyteller/actor for the Community Voices performance on Feb. 9th. Monk offers that “our part is one small piece of an entire week of presentations and performances. Elaine Wilgus and I and a number of community members are trying to dramatize the response of the local townspeople to the child sexual abuse that we now realize was happening right in our midst and indeed is still happening.”
Cultural Conversations is an amazing opportunity to delve into some of the deeper unspoken issues of today through the medium of art, dance and theatre. The production brings together a diverse group of individuals from many different backgrounds with different stories and experiences to share. There is a wide range of shows spread out over seven days, so there is plenty of time to come and experience the engaging plays and performances that Cultural Conversations has to offer.
Schedule of Events
The Student Work
Feb. 4, Downtown Theatre Centre, 7:30 p.m.
Opening events will start today. Students will perform three one-act plays: “Full Gay House” by Russell Poole, directed by Rob Montgomery; “Flotsam, Jetsam, Lagan and Derelict” by David Amerman, directed by Zach Miller; and “Floor” by Benji Wolk, directed by David Kisan. Student Stephanie Wain (film and video) will also present her documentary on sexual assault at Penn State, “Untitled.” Tickets are $3.
Body Language 2013: Knowing Who “We Are”
Feb. 5, 6, Downtown Theatre Centre, 7:30 p.m.
This event is a collaboration between State Collage Area High School, Stormbreak Group Home for Girls, PSU’s PHREE Organization (Peers Helping Reaffirm), PSU Student voices, and The Penn State Dance Program. The event is sure to be a great showing of ORIGINAL works tackling tough issues and featuring exceptional creative talent! Tickets are $3.
It Gets Better
Feb. 7, Eisenhower Auditorium
On Feb. 7, a performance of “It Gets Better,” written and directed by Liesel Rinehart will be held at the Eisenhower Auditorium. The event will feature the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles, one of the largest men’s ensembles in the United States, whose vision is to promote equality of the LBGT community through musical performances. The Penn State’s University Choir, directed by Tony Leach, will be singing along with the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles. Also contributing to the event will be State High’s LBGT Alliance and Penn State’s LBGT Resource Center. The goal of the event is to utilize multimedia, songs, and stories to show that members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community and other youth are not alone in their struggles. The event is to be broadcast over the It Gets Better Project’s website.
Tickets will be available at Eisenhower auditorium, for $15, or $10 for students.
Black ‘n Blue Boys/Broken Men
Feb. 8, Downtown Theatre Centre, 7:30 p.m.
On February 8, Pulitzer Prize finalist and Obie Award winner, Dael Orlandosmith, will be performing a solo acting piece called “Black n’ Blue Boys/ Broken Men.” This performance will explore the effects of child abuse on an individual later in life. It delves into the evils of abuse and explores the uncharted area of its aftermath. After the performance there will be a lecture and discussion lead by Orlandosmith. Tickets are $3.
Feb. 9, Downtown Theatre Centre, 7:30 p.m.
Community is a key part to our everyday lives. They are the people we work with, see in the supermarket, or even pass on the street. It is this group of people that have a direct impact on how our everyday lives play out. Come join a group of your fellow dedicated community members Saturday at 7:30 p.m. in the Downtown State Theater to hear about what the people and artists in your area have to say. They will be campaigning for change by sharing personal stories. Tickets are $3.
Festival for the Children
Feb. 10, Downtown Theatre Centre, 10:30 a.m.- 6 p.m.
On Feb. 10 at the Downtown Theatre Centre, a fundraiser for the Stormbreak Group Home for Girls entitled “Stewards for Children: 7 Ways to Protecting Our Children.” All proceeds will benefit Stormbreak, for the support and protection of children. Tickets are $4.99 and the event lasts from 10:30 a.m.-12:45 p.m.
From 1:00 p.m. until 5:00 p.m., afternoon performances will take place featuring a wide variety of performers. These performers include Bill Doan, Julia Kasdorf, Gabeba Baderoon, Shannon Bishop, the Pepper Lotus Belly Dancing Troupe, Daleen Berry, Stephanie Wain and Penn State theatre students. A reception will be held immediately following the performances. Tickets are $4.99.
For more information visit http://culturalconversations.psu.edu
This article was written by Haley Blazer, Julia Boitano, Nicole Cheshire, Maria Cosma, Margaret Culver, Matthew Easton, Alexa Echevarria, Hannah Kerby, Cailyn Kreitz, Shane Malenfant. Alyssa Palmer, Yuyuan Pan, Jake Pelini, Amanda Pina, Abagayle Renko, Christina Reuille, Nia Sherony and Stephen Zimmerer.