By: Emma Johnston
Amplify: to repeat what someone says so their voice gains more traction and audience.
The last rehearsals of a performance before it premieres contain a mixture of excitement, exhaustion, stress and joy. At the final rehearsal for "Amplify: UT Women’s Voices," a collection of monologues hosted by the Women’s Resource Agency, women beamed on stage, huddled in corners to rehearse lines; some were even moved to tears after witnessing others performances.
“This week I have been such an emotional wreck,” performer Layla Wehbe admits with a laugh, eyes red and glassy from crying. “But it’s happy tears. They’re not sad tears; I’m in a good place. It’s is so cheesy, but I love women!”
A combination of songs, stories, dances and poems will appear at "Amplify: UT Women’s Voices," opening April 7th at the Student Union Theatre. Ticket proceeds will go to Voices Against Violence Survivors’ Emergency Fund.
In the past, WRA put on performances of the 1996 play, "The Vagina Monologues," an amalgamation of vignettes told by women, focusing on sexual expereinces. But for Amplify they wanted a more inclusive, relatable and local performance, so they opened a call for submissions. Anyone at UT who identifies as a woman could submit a written piece and either choose to perform it herself, or have another woman present it. Of the 60 stories submitted, WRA chose 25 for their production this weekend. Wehbe admitted she was skeptical at first, unsure if the crowd-sourced stories would match up to original Vagina Monologues script.
“I have been proven wrong over and over again. Every single monologue I listen to is so real and so relatable,” Wehbe says. “We have a lot of mental health monologues that weren’t really addressed with the original [Vagina Monologues] script: Real UT women talking about their struggle with mental health. It’s honest and hopeful and sad, but important.”
A year in the making, Amplify covers the spectrum of UT Women’s experiences, from race, politics and body image, to mental health and sexual assault.
“I think a lot of times right now we get caught up in the politics of women’s issues and we’re not really ascribing a real voice,” says Lauren L’Amie, one of the directors. “With Amplify, we tie in the statistics, we tie in the politics, we tie in these huge issues that everyone hears about, but we’re bringing it back home to women you know. We named it ‘Amplify’ because that’s another term that’s being thrown around a lot. And I think we have the opportunity to really do that by listening intently to other women and recognizing when it is our turn to speak and when it is somebody else’s turn to speak out.”
The directors also sought diversity and accurate representation of UT’s students and the world at large. Director Rebecca Sostek explains that the group chose to include a section on the application for anonymous applicants who wanted people of their identities to perform their work. “A woman got to say specifically, ‘I want this to be performed by a queer woman of color,’” Sostek says. “I think that helped people feel more comfortable, knowing that their piece was going into the right hands.”
“That helped a lot because if we had said, ‘you have to be able to perform your own piece,’ I feel like we wouldn’t have been able to do the amplifying and share someone else’s story,” adds L’Amie. “We received a disproportionate amount of submissions that had to do with sexual assault, especially on college campuses, which, unfortunately, we expected. We were able to amplify a lot of those stories, especially for women who weren’t comfortable standing up there themselves and telling these stories, we were able to cast people who could perform their experiences.”
Despite the raw emotions of many of the pieces, Amplify embraces levity as well.
“While we wanted to take all the pieces that we received, it was definitely clear to us which pieces were necessary to be in the production and what pieces were needed to bring some lightheartedness to the show,” Rebecca says. “One of them is about a girl being vain and how she’s worried about getting old and having her butt sag. That’s something that is so simple but so universal for a lot of women. Another piece is a woman’s reaction to how good it felt for her Gynecologist to say, while putting in her IUD, that her ‘cervix was like butter.’”
Participating in Amplify encouraged one performer, Sarah Farris, to pursue writing outside of the show. “I never considered myself a writer,” Farris says. “I guess to anyone who wants to write, just do it—especially if you’re a woman. Tell your story and give yourself the agency to tell your story. If people aren’t asking for it, do it anyway because the world needs to hear it.”