Delving Down There

Emotional storytelling show connects with crowds

Robbie Barnett-Kemper playing out his touching story.
Robbie Barnett-Kemper playing out his touching story.
Photo: 
Aleesha Meyler’s striking performance.
Aleesha Meyler’s striking performance.
Photo: 

This year’s Down There production is an extraordinary collection of powerful and relatable stories on the diverse nature of identity.

Down There is an annual stage production of a collection of short stories, poems, dances, monologues and songs that are written, directed, produced and performed entirely by students.

It started with the Women’s Empowerment Committee’s production of “The Vagina Monologues” in 1999, which dealt almost exclusively with women’s issues. Then, the name changed to “Revulvalutions” in 2011 which was half “The Vagina Monologues” and half student-written, like Down There.

Due to the success of that show, they officially changed the name to Down There in 2012.

The performance includes performances on topics such as femininity and masculinity, mental health, body image, race, sexual orientation and religion.

The sense of community, comfortableness and closeness between the cast members was evident on stage. There’s a clear support system between the cast and crew that can be seen through the lack of vulnerability in the cast’s performance about experience and social issues that resonate with them.

“This whole thing is for people to have an honest performance on stage, and I think that if we can touch even one person with each monologue then that’s important,” said co-director Hanna Brynn, ArtSci ’16.

From the director’s perspective, the discussion about social issues that are prominent to the cast members allowed for the cast and crew’s self-development.

“[It’s so great] seeing the cast members grow and be able to tell their own stories on stage,” Brynn said. “We’re incredibly proud of them.”

The directors wanted to take a new casting approach this year.

“Early on with casting, we found that a lot of people auditioned with original pieces,” said co-director Rida Sakina, ArtSci ’15. “It was very inspiring for us and we figured we would try to cast and produce an entirely original show.”

The majority of the pieces were written and performed by those who wrote them. Only three of the 18 pieces, which were still written by Queen’s students, were performed by people who didn’t write them.

The overarching theme of identity, self-perception and self-portrayal connects each of the shows performances.

Deterring from last year’s set — “up here, in here and around there” — the directors decided to hire more male cast members this year to discuss how stereotypes of masculinity impact men.

The theme of identity was inspired by a monologue submission by one of the show’s technical directors — Wallis Caldoza, ArtSci ’17 — titled ‘Roots’. Caldoza’s monologue was used during the show’s finale and turned into a performance featuring the entire cast, including song and dance.

“We thought ‘Roots’ would make an incredible finale if we were able to tie everyone into it. We have a super talented cast,” Sakina said. “It was quite a process but I think that it has come together quite beautifully.”

The production not only acts as a mouthpiece for students to share their individual stories of struggle, opinions, identity, roots and life — but also gives audience members a chance to step inside a safe space to listen and relate to the performers’ experiences without judgment.

“The storytelling aspect and the nature of getting people in a space to come together and not necessarily talk about the issues then and there, but [listening] to the cast members,” Sakina said. “It’s not just a show that you leave and forget about.”

Even if audience members haven’t experienced the social issues being presented in Down There, the performance welcomes viewers into a new perspective to create awareness.

“We want [audiences] to come in with an open mind and heart, and be willing to listen — we want to make sure members connect to at least one of the pieces in some way.”

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