"Show Some Skin" Interview With Natasha Reifenberg, Co-Executive of "Show Some Skin"
Hannah Bressler:Can you explain the process of the “Show Some Skin” show to me? An anonymous person will submit a monologue which is rehearsed and performed by another actor, right?
Natasha Reifenberg: So we have a call for stories early in the fall semester, where we receive upwards of 100 monologues. All of these are submitted anonymously. We then do casting for actors separately, and are also at the same time doing ‘story board’ to choose which about 25 monologues we think should be presented by and to our community. The actors will have about two months to spend with their monologues, perfecting their performance and reflecting on all the issues. The actors have no way of knowing who the monologue was written by, and that is part of the process that the actor gets to make it his or her own while still preserving the essence of the piece. Our mission is to give voice to unspoken stories about identity and difference.
HB: How often is it performed? Every year?
NR: Yes, annually! Usually the third week of February for three consecutive shows. This year, we are hoping to expand the impact of the show by having ‘mini’ theme-oriented performances during specific weeks (like sexual assault prevention week and mental health week) which would be monologues that deal with those particular issues.
HB: Why is it so important to keep it anonymous? Are people sometimes “outed” accidentally? What do you think is the power of telling a personal story anonymously?
NR: I think anonymity allows for a kind of brutal honesty and vulnerability that we aren’t afforded in our day to day lives. It is much more comfortable to think in generalizations (ie, racism exists but it doesn’t affect me) versus being confronted by a personal experience (like someone going on stage and telling a story about how people assume they got into Notre Dame because of affirmative action).
No, people are never outed, we are very careful with that. Part of the beauty of the show is that it forces one to realize that these pieces could be written by a total stranger or by one of your good friends, while also making one confront their own prejudices and judgments. I think the power of anonymity is that it sends the message ‘be kind, you never know the kind of internal battle someone else is fighting.’
HB: How are the actors chosen? Do some actors perform more than one piece per show?
NR: We are lucky enough to have many students try out to be actors. They are given a selection of monologues from the previous year to try out with so we can get a feel for each actor’s strengths. We look for stage presence and a good command of voice, while also taking into account that we are a show that seeks to promote diversity. We make an effort to have our group of actors be diverse in gender, race, ethnicity, etc. Most actors perform one piece, but a couple are given two monologues to perform if we feel they can master both.
HB:I heard the show was originally started to discuss race relations, but how has it evolved about identity since then? What are some of the other identity themes coming up?
NR: We still very much preserve the vision on which the show was founded—to be a catalyst forpositive change on campus and promote appreciation for diversity. While monologues dealing with issues of race have been a big part of the show every year, we want to reflect the big issues that affect students at the current time of the show. The issues that we keep encountering are often monologues about mental health stigma (especially depression), sexual assault experiences, LGBTQ experiences, (usually about homophobia,) and being poor at a predominantly upper middle class campus.
HB: Can you tell me some of your favorite quotes, or particularly moving selections from the monologues?
NR: Every monologue captures a certain vulnerability that is unique to itself, but of course there are a few that stand out in my mind.
“When I started to diagnose myself with the terrible disease of being gay I sought out a few simple remedies. The first thing I did was prescribe myself “the University of Notre Dame” and sent in my deposit to enroll. Next, I read every scientific journal I found about this gay disease. I looked at all types of hormone levels and closely followed a series of experiments on changing sexual orientations of fruit flies. Because, you know, gay flies should go to heaven too.” -Diagnosis
“I am a woman on campus. I am a strong woman on campus. I am a passionate woman which means I cannot be silent anymore about the culture of assault and sexism I see and the lack of action. Sure we have walks, we have nice shirts and little prayer services, which are all well and good to spread awareness. BUT WE ARE AWARE. We need education on this campus, and not the usual “make sure your skirt isn’t too short” or “maybe you should be carrying mace” or “you knew what could happen if you got that drunk.” We need to know yes means yes. I followed my first attacker to college. I was so stressed my freshman year, what if he tried again? Could we still be friends? That last question seems odd. I still blamed myself, as my friends did. I didn’t say no-those two all-important letters. But I will not be silent! I said “stop,” I said “I don’t want to,” I said “why,” I said “do we have to?” Do not tell me I secretly wanted it.” -- No more silence
“She only hit me once, but once was enough for all of our arguments to terrify me into submission. I have seen the monster that was hidden. See, I had always assumed that when you were born you were put in a metaphorical box until you could lovingly and accurately label yourself. Coven waiting, with arms outstretched to welcome you with love. The world opening up to different labels as the tides swept out from within our hearts to accept love. What the world forgot to teach me:
Women can hit women too.” -Monster
HB: Just from watching the videos, I would think that a show like this has many pieces to it--the writers, actors, producers, publicity people, etc. What makes you interested in this project in particular? Why are you driven to work with it?
NR: Yes, the production of the show is no small feat! I seems so easy to complain about ourcampus being intolerant and ignorant of the issues, but something like “Show Some Skin” challenges that intolerance and that ignorance behavior in other students and our administration. If I can help in anyway—even if it’s a miniscule improvement-- to make this campus a place where people feel more comfortable in their own skin and are not afraid to speak out against discrimination, all the work will have been worth it.
HB: I’ve heard some slam poets say, of personal performance pieces, that it’s important to give your audience a way to deal with what you’re offering. For instance, if you bringing the audience some heavy grief or anger, it’s important to offer a way to process that energy so the listeners can keep engaging with the work. What do you think of this? Is this something you look for when reviewing different monologues?
NR: Hmm.. It’s definitely something we try to understand and deal with. We look for that when reviewing monologues. We actually want to make the audience uncomfortable, we want them to be angry, to grieve for the anonymous person behind the story. We want them to feel something, because we believe that if they aren’t uncomfortable, then nothing will change. We have a really specific way of dealing with this energy with the actors, which is we do certain reflection exercises during rehearsals, and have councilors from the our health center come in and talk to them. Utilizing the emotional energy of the audience from the show for greater impact is something we are trying to pursue.