This weekend, over 75 students will take the stage to present the fourth annual production of RISE: Untold Stories of Bowdoin Women. With 49 stories, 31 of which are new, the performance will feature a wide range of emotions as the production’s organizers work to highlight joy as well as women’s stories of difficulty and violence. Proceeds will benefit Sexual Assault Support Services of Midcoast Maine and Through These Doors.
RISE was developed by a group of Bowdoin students in the 2016-17 academic year as an intersectional version of Eve Ensler’s celebrated play, “The Vagina Monologues,” created in 1995.
Beginning in September, the RISE leadership team, Lucia Gagliardone ’20, Eskedar Girmash ’20, Aisha Rickford ’20, Adedunmola Adewale ’22 and Julia Jennings ’23, collected stories encompassing a variety of topics and experiences from women on campus.
After reviewing the stories, the leadership team chose which ones to include in the script for this year’s performance.
“I think we wanted to not shy away from the stories that are the hardest, but also the stories that are the most happy and joyful,” Gagliardone said. “I think this year, we tried to really feature joy in addition to survivorship.”
Serena Jonas ’22, a first-time participant in RISE, appreciates the production’s candor.
“I think a lot of these topics that we’re covering are very explicit and taboo and people don’t talk about them. There’s something really moving about seeing these taboo topics and subjects up on a stage performed in front of an audience.”
In total, over 300 women have been involved in some capacity in executing this year’s production of RISE. In addition to the hundreds of women who submitted their stories, RISE involves 78 women on stage, five women on the leadership team, Technology Director Maddie Hikida ’22, House Manager Kate McKee ’22 and two interpreters who will be translating the show into American Sign Language for the performances tonight and Saturday night.
“I love being in big spaces of women—women of all generations on this campus and all different social circles—and it’s just a remarkable thing to be able to pull these humans together and make this beautiful thing,” Gagliardone said.
The women taking the stage this weekend have memorized their lines, but will hold notecards to remind the audience that the stories are not theirs.
“It’s our firm belief that the story stays the way that the woman intended to write it,” said Gagliardone.
Grace Monaghan ’22 attributes her motivation for joining the cast of RISE this year to the power of the stories.
“It’s very brave of these women who shared these stories to share them in the first place, and so I want to be able to do justice to their stories and give them a voice,” she said.
Jonas emphasized that it is important to remember that the stories in RISE come from experiences close to home.
“These are stories of things that have happened on this campus that we live, breathe, eat [and] sleep on. And I think that’s the difference because you can hear about rape, you can hear about all these serious things, but when you hear a story [from] right here on this campus where we live, it’s a whole other story and it has another level of impact,” she said.
Gagliardone has been a part of RISE for all her years at Bowdoin, and she is passionate about the greater effect the performance can have on campus and the world.
For Gagliardone, the performance isn’t simply about storytelling—it’s also a valuable way to encourage healing.
“I think RISE is one piece of that equation in which storytelling becomes this resource to simultaneously help with healing for people who have already experienced violence and work to dismantle and destroy an oppressive patriarchy that is on our campus and in our society at large,” said Gagliardone.
Girmash has also been involved in RISE since her first year at Bowdoin. She hopes that engagement with these issues doesn’t stop at RISE.
“We continue to push ourselves to make Bowdoin and every space we inhabit safer and more inclusive for all women [and] all marginalized identities,” she said.
Gagliardone encourages everyone on campus to come to RISE and—with a line from the play itself—“Just listen.”
“I’m really committed to challenging and calling out violence and working to create a campus in a world in which our bodies are sites of love and curiosity and adventure and sadness, but not violence. And that’s a big, big struggle. It’s going to take many, many years,” Gagliardone said.
The performance debuted last night and will continue tonight and Saturday at 7 p.m. in Kresge Auditorium. Tickets are on sale for $5 at the David Saul Smith Union Information Desk.
Proceeds from ticket sales will be donated to Sexual Assault Support Services of Midcoast Maine and Through These Doors, two local gender violence prevention organizations.
Editor’s Note, 02/15/20, 6:13 p.m.: A previous version of this article’s headline incorrectly stated that 300 women were involved in this year’s production of RISE. There were 300 women involved in RISE throughout the four years of its production.