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Controversy at the Cube

Jules Struck ’19, News Editor

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The script to the show can be found here.

 

A student-run theater production entitled “How to be Liked in the 21st Century” has generated dissension among viewers, some of whom protested the play’s incorporation of themes of sexual harassment.

The play was produced and directed by Sean Jones ’17 and Alex Dillon ’17 as part of Dickinson’s department of theater and dance’s “Lab Shows,” series for which students propose self-directed plays. The show was held on Friday, April 14 in the Cubiculo to a crowd of about 100.

“I didn’t feel that ‘How to Be Liked’ created a productive discussion [about sexual assault],” said Maia Baker ’19, who attended the show. “It diminished sexual assault by using it as a joke and misrepresented arguments about the issues of sexism on college campuses and in the outside world.”

The responses from students prompted Dillon to publicly “extend our most sincere apologies” on Facebook on Sunday, April 16.

The play depicted an argument on Facebook that ensued between groups of sorority women and fraternity men after one brother was elected class president. The character, Tom Northstar, was running against sorority member Maddison Orville. During the online discussion, sister Katie Lee-Winston recounted her experience being approached at a party by Northstar, who “corner[e]d” her. Without the intervention of Orville, wrote the character of Lee-Winston, “who [k]nows what could have happened to me.”

The hour-long show recounted the debate that followed carried out on Facebook between the characters on the legitimacy of Northstar’s election and his personal integrity.

The show was written by the cast in one three-hour period. Once having been assigned characters, explains Tori Wagner ’20, who played Lee-Winston, “Basically we were just kind of like, let loose. We said here’s a general plot, here are two or three main events that we have to work in at some point, but otherwise just react in character and you’re good to go.”

Dillon says the Wednesday before the show, “we had a friend come and sit in, [and] we realized that there were some pretty serious concerns… in terms of tone, in terms of content.” Dillon and Jones then revised the script as per the offered critiques, and presented the show the next day to Assistant Professor of theater design Kent Barrett and Professor of theater Karen Kirkham.

Kirkham and Barrett, who had been indirectly “told through a student… that there was maybe some concern,” did “not see anything in [the show] that warranted [emendation].”

“Our biggest thing,” said Kirkham, “is that we’re not going to censor or pull the play because it has difficult content, or has content that is potentially lead to some discussion… That’s what theater does.”

Dillon explained that the show was a “commentary on how people are different online than they are in person… A lot of the times, people operate within these digital communities and these digital spheres in ways that they would never operate in real life.”

In addition, he says that reactions to the election of Donald Trump inspired the show, particularly how some may have “felt like it was necessary to come forth and apologize… and be forthwith with [who they voted for] when in the past I’ve been told that it’s private who you vote for.” For one character in the play, explains Dillon, that type of situation “leads to her social downfall, facilitated by the kind of sharp and harsh reality of how things can kind of go bad on social media.”

The evening before the performance, “folks who were concerned about the content of the show reached out” to Kelly Wilt, director of the Prevention, Education and Advocacy Center (PEAC), to “let me know they thought the content of the show insensitively discussed sexual violence,” she explained.

Wilt then “reached out to meet with the directors… [in part] to discuss ways that students could more proactively engage with departments and experts in these areas—especially when working with sensitive material—to be thoughtful about how they present sensitive subjects.”

“In retrospect looking back on it,” said Dillon, “we did deal with some pretty sensitive subjects, and a lot of what we were told and a lot of the opinions that came out after the show [of] feeling personally slighted… in retrospect, were probably very founded.”

“We thought that especially when we had the professors ok,” said Jones, “we thought that we had done what we needed to do to make this a safe space. And we didn’t, we didn’t do enough and we feel bad about that.”

“Especially because some of the people that have felt attacked or uncomfortable were our close friends,” elaborates Dillon. “It makes me feel terrible to know that something that we did was uncomforting or insensitive, or even just hurtful… that was never our intention when we set out to do this thing, and it just kind of happened.”

Regardless, “I don’t think we would make a different decision,” said Kirkham.

“For me personally,” said Barrett, “I do stand behind the students that tried to create this piece… I really did think the play was sort of a reflection of our current sociopolitical climate right now, and it’s ugly.”

Addie Downs ’19, who attended the show felt it “was a little insensitive. Not only to victims of sexual harassment and assault, but also to the women in the show who were trying to stand up for themselves. There are better ways to address the issue, especially when friends of ours have lived through it.”

Erika Faulkner ’20, another attendee, felt “it was a really interesting perspective… Everyone has written fights similar to the ones [the cast] showed, and no one ever really thinks about how if affects people personally.”

“We’re taking steps to make sure that all the resources at Dickinson are properly used in production of plays,” concluded Jones.

“I’m sure there are still some minds… that would benefit from us being like, ‘ok guys, do it better than we did,’” said Dillon, “And you know, it should be a learning experience for us. It’s college, we learn in college.”

You can read the full script online here.

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Controversy at the Cube