Stories of friendship, trauma and political activism share the stage this weekend at the third annual production of “RISE: Untold Stories of Bowdoin Women.” This year’s show, true to its roots, represents diverse experiences of Bowdoin women, even when they may be difficult to hear.
Debuted in 2017, RISE is based on written submissions from the Bowdoin community, and is organized and produced by student group fEMPOWER. After collecting new submissions last semester, the group of writers, producers and directors chose nearly 50 stories to tell this year, only seven of which have been told in the past two productions.
Among the new submissions, trauma and sexual assault or abuse emerged as more prominent themes than in previous years. The RISE team—comprised of Montsi Madrigal ’18, Jenna Scott ’19, Aisha Rickford ’20, Devon Garcia ’21, Emily King ’21, Renita Shivnauth ’21 and Elwaad Werah ’21—chose to include these stories as an indication of the evolving experiences and concerns facing Bowdoin women.
“Given the history of the show and how delicately we’ve treated everything in the past, women feel comfortable to express themselves in every thought that they have, whether that’s a fully formed thought about how much they love their boyfriend … [or] a question of what counts as sexual assault,” said Scott.
Scott and Madrigal, the directors of RISE, cited activism surrounding the Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh, who was accused of several instances of sexual misconduct, as a potential inspiration for women to share their stories. In September and October of last year, Bowdoin students participated in a walkout and in local and national protests.
“I think having the whole Kavanaugh [accusations] come out allowed a lot of women to feel empowered to use their voice,” said Madrigal. “So we had a lot more stories about trauma. And that was—it was some heavy material, but it’s so important that it is told. It is so important.”
“There are parts, if you go to the play, you can see, and you’re going to say, wow, thank you to the woman who shared this,” she added, “because somebody needs to hear it.”
One submission was a letter to U.S. Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) whose historically moderate positions made her a deciding vote in Kavanaugh’s confirmation. Bowdoin students protested outside of Collins’ Portland office two weeks before she voted to confirm Kavanaugh.
Scott invited Collins to attend a performance of RISE, but Collins’ office responded that she would be unable to attend.
RISE leaders recognize that such stories, while important, are also particularly heavy and potentially triggering. For each production, they have worked with Lisa Peterson, associate director of gender violence prevention and education and advisor to fEMPOWER, who read all submissions and helped RISE leaders to present the stories in a productive way.
“A big part of my involvement in RISE from the beginning … is to make sure that any discussion of gender violence is done in a really safe way and done in a way that reflects what our sexual misconduct policy is,” Peterson said.
One member of the RISE team, Shivnauth, represents fEMPOWER on the Alliance for Sexual Assault Prevention (ASAP), a coalition of student groups that meets under Peterson’s office and the Sexuality, Women and Gender Center (SWAG) to coordinate efforts to prevent gender-based violence. Through meeting with those groups, Shivnauth gained tools to ensure that these difficult discussions continue, starting with RISE.
“Often, Bowdoin students—all of us in general—feel like we’re in this bubble, and we see things going on in the news, but they don’t—while they hit hard for a short period of time, they don’t necessarily translate into action or decisions or changes,” said Shivnauth.
Advocates from Safe Space and members of Bowdoin’s Counseling Center, along with representatives from Sexual Assault Support Services of Midcoast Maine (SASSMM) and Through These Doors, a local domestic violence agency, will be present at every show to offer support and assistance to audience members.
RISE leaders explained that the broader goal of the production is to show the range of experiences of Bowdoin women. Other stories related to family, friendship, race, religion, romance and body image are equally vital to include in order to paint as comprehensive a portrait of womanhood as possible, directors Scott and Madrigal said.
“Every year we get more diverse participation, which we’re always thankful for,” said Madrigal. “We want to make RISE more encompassing of the Bowdoin experience, and the Bowdoin experience is no longer homogenous.”
With its debut production in 2017, RISE replaced the annual production of Eve Ensler’s “The Vagina Monologues,” a play written in the mid-1990s that has since been criticized for its narrow representation of womanhood.
At its core, leaders said, RISE celebrates Bowdoin women and brings them together.
“I wouldn’t want people to walk away from the production just focused on experiences of trauma and oppression that women on campus have faced—which definitely have happened—but also be thinking about the really positive, uplifting, wonderful parts of womanhood on campus, too,” said Peterson.
RISE will be performed Friday and Saturday in Kresge Auditorium at 7 p.m. Tickets are $5 and are available for purchase at the Smith Union Info Desk. All proceeds from ticket sales go toward SASSMM and Through These Doors.