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fEMPOWER’s RISE reimagines Bowdoin women

March 1, 2024

Thetis Fourli
AND I'LL RISE UP: In its seventh year of producing RISE, fEMPOWER continues to reimagine its programming and its mission to showcase the otherwise often untold stories of women on campus to the broader Bowdoin community.

The student organization fEMPOWER hosted its annual RISE performance to unveil the untold stories of women and to uplift them in their vulnerability.  Highlighting women’s experiences on campus, from serious to lighthearted, RISE seeks to foster a space for women to voice the challenges and celebrations they share through womanhood.

This year, fEMPOWER expanded upon reforms made in previous years, changing aspects of the show’s presentation and increasing the amount of time the cast spent together.

“This year differs from others as we have tried to create more time and space for the cast members to bond more. This is the first year we had our retreat at Schiller with an overnight option and had more cast dinners before and after the production,” fEMPOWER officer Emely Reyes ’25 said.

With more time together as a cast, fEMPOWER discussed the best ways to convey anonymous stories with the understanding and support to provide an immersive and eye-opening experience.

“One structural change we made is we moved from having the performance aspect of either a dance or an acapella group in the show… we’re starting to slowly incorporate a visual arts element to RISE,” fEMPOWER leader Ava Grandfield ’24 said.

During the retreat, the cast made some of the paintings, drawings and other pieces of art that were featured in the exhibit outside of Kresge Auditorium.

“It was cool to incorporate a visual aspect and to add another layer, another way of expressing femininity and what it means to be a woman at this place beyond getting up on the stage and speaking about it,” Robin Walker-Spencer ’24 said. “I like that it can encompass different abilities and talents and different modes of expression.”

As seniors graduate and the next set of students move into leadership, the current officers decided to add a position: an art coordinator, to acknowledge fEMPOWER’s growing mission in creating spaces for women to express themselves beyond verbal storytelling. They set their sights on ensuring all perspectives were represented in the program.

“In our submission form, we encourage all types of stories, which leads to a wide range from lighthearted to serious stories. Since it is anonymous, there is no inherent diversity quota as we aim to make sure everyones’ voices are heard,” Reyes said.

As a newer organization founded in 2016, fEMPOWER continues to pay close attention to feedback. RISE changes from year to year based on the different stories submitted, reflecting an evolving campus landscape.

“I think that just getting feedback from the audience members and just from our own experiences, we felt that even though it’s good to have an intermission, and we’re keeping that to give people some space to process and take a break if they need to, we like the idea of really keeping the show itself dedicated to the just the stories,” Grandfield said. “It could feel a little jarring to sometimes to be listening to stories and then [see] a dance and then go back into the stories.”

After this year’s performance, audience members shared their appreciation for the production and the ways in which it made them consider what it means to be a woman at Bowdoin and more broadly.

“This show was extremely impactful and it made me question the way I exist in this campus community. It made me very self-aware of how I treat all the women in my life,” audience member Ollie Tannahill ’27 said.

Over the years, fEMPOWER has developed RISE into a show that champions inclusive storytelling methods. This year, the group accepted all of the stories submitted and cast members who auditioned.

“I saw the posters everywhere, I wasn’t really sure of what RISE was, but I was curious. I got the email and saw that there weren’t any cuts and thought this is good, this should be my step out; then getting into it and auditioning, reading the script, meeting the cast—I knew this was going to be big and important,” Mylia Vigue ’27 said.

Working continuously to improve, adapt, and emulate the experiences of women on Bowdoin’s campus, fEMPOWER hopes RISE will capture more attention on campus as the program continues to evolve.

“We have a lot of first years involved, people who have never been part of the cast before, so it’s different in that we have new faces on the stage involved, and we have people who have never come to RISE in the audience,” Grandfield said. “Something I love about RISE is that it worked into its definition that it changes year to year.”

Opening the floor to the horizon of various stories within women’s lives, the show allowed for a showcase   of womanhood and for women to see themselves in each other’s stories.

“[The show was] amazing, moving, emotional, inspirational, touching. I feel like it reminded me of how amazing women are,” audience member Idaly Morales ’23 said.


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