The Dan Studio Series grapples with identity in DSS: Embrace

Drama School teams up with students to produce show about self-acceptance

Image by: Yixuan Lin

This past weekend, The Dan School of Drama  and the Dan Studio Series (DSS) staged a series of performances about life on the margins.

The fall installment, titled DSS: Embrace, was comprised of four one-act performances thematically centered on the idea of a journey towards self-acceptance.

The pieces varied from a typical one-act play in “Not As I Do” to a mixture of dance, spoken word and monologues in the final piece, “Isolation Was Welcome.”

The opening performance, titled “Gay Agenda”, demonstrated the new meanings the word “gay” has evolved to contain over time. Even though the five characters in the piece all identify as bisexual, they’re incorrectly labelled as being homosexual by others since they express interest in people of the same gender. Even though the characters have little in common, they were lumped together because of their sexuality.

The vignettes ultimately showed how the term “gay” could be used to limit a person’s identity and misrepresent the experience and nuance of their sexuality. The actors ended “Gay Agenda” by talking about how society often uses this one aspect of a person to colour everything else they do.

The strongest part of the piece was the use of a giant notebook and equally oversized pencil the actors brought out to introduce the scenes. The actors penciled in introductions on the notebook with progressively larger numbers and titles to suggest a nauseatingly long “gay agenda,” offering a lighter take on what could be heavy-handed subject matter.

A segment titled “Not As I Do” followed, this time tackling mental health issues.

The play begins with four characters sitting in a psychologist’s office, waiting for the doctor to arrive.

One character, Harper, is seeking a new shrink and talks about how she feels she has to lie about coming to therapy because no one thinks it’s important enough to reschedule things for her otherwise.

In a restrained and nuanced performance by actress Maddie Hendricks, Harper reveals the pain and loneliness that often comes with mental illness. The character shows the potential for isolation of mentally ill people who live in a society prone to suggesting they’re faking or simply “feeling down” that day.

In the end, it’s revealed that the patients were delayed because the psychologist has committed suicide. The characters are at a loss and become angry at him for abandoning them. Only Harper remarks upon the loneliness he must’ve felt as a mentally ill psychologist.

The second half of the show featured pieces “Olaf The Viking” and “Isolation Was Welcome.” Both sketches focused on embracing one’s identity in the face of societal pressure to conform.

In the former, Olaf and Gik are two Vikings who discuss the pressures of being men — and true Vikings. Olaf, to Gik’s horror, decides to slow down his rampaging to live with a girl, garden in his free time and run through meadows. 

The discussion was a funny, playful take on the nature of masculinity — the main point being, you should do what you enjoy in your life regardless of societal expectations or you’ll most likely feel trapped in an unhappy existence.

The production closed with a striking depiction of the loneliness many of us face in our daily routines despite being surrounding by people — much like the actors who are surrounded by their ensemble. 

One man in the group recites a day in his life, explaining that he goes to work and stares a screen, goes home and talks to a friend over Facebook, then goes to bed at 11:23 p.m. and wakes up again to repeat the day’s events all over again.

The unnamed character shares his difficulties and feelings of isolation from his daily schedule, illustrating the reality of technology replacing real person-to-person interaction.

Each member of the ensemble proceeded to share something about themselves in this way while the other members moved around them, hugging and reassuring them.

The final performance began and ended with the same actor asking the audience how fulfilled each of us were with our lives.

Previously asked in the introduction of the series, these questions seemed more hopeful the second time around. The change came from the newly-found mutual support each performer gained from sharing their stories. Growing and learning with one another became a way for the characters to escape their own loneliness.  

The four acts of DSS: Embrace examined the difficulties many face in struggling with identity, meeting the expectations of their surrounding communities and being forced to hide their true selves to meet societal expectations.


Dan School of Drama and Music, drama department, student theatre

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