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Loyal Daughters’ draws hundreds

Kaitlynn Riely | Tuesday, November 14, 2006

“Loyal Daughters,” a student-written play about sexuality and sexual violence on Notre Dame’s campus, debuted Monday night to a packed audience in the Decio Theater of the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center.

While play organizers are prohibited from fundraising or charging money for tickets, director Madison Liddy said the play still achieves its goal of promoting awareness, dialogue and then action – a goal that draws from the philosophy behind past performances of “The Vagina Monologues,” but in a more campus-specific way.

After University President Father John Jenkins questioned the place of the “Monologues” Notre Dame last spring, the ensuing 10 weeks of heated debate divided the campus, except on one major point – the need to find ways to combat sexual assault.

“Loyal Daughters” was one of the ways that emerged from the discussion. And with a packed house on the first night, Liddy said she was pleased to have conveyed the play’s ideas to so many people.

“That’s three hundred and something people that got to see and hear stories of Notre Dame students and students around them, so the big deal is to create awareness,” she said.

“Loyal Daughters” emerged from the more than 50 interviews senior Emily Weisbecker conducted with Notre Dame students, faculty and staff members about the presence of sexuality and sexual assault on Notre Dame’s campus. These interviews resulted in 24 skits that touch on topics ranging from rape and drinking to virginity and self-defense.

“I think the fact that it tells stories about Notre Dame – they are true stories from our campus – makes it very close to home and that is something that can’t be touched on by any other play, because these are students right now,” said Weisbecker, who wrote and directed the production. “It just makes it very real – it makes it more urgent.”

Sophomore Sarah Way, who attended the “Monologues” last year, agreed with “Loyal Daughters” organizers that stories pulled directly from Notre Dame’s campus had a bigger impact.

“I thought students can relate to it a lot better,” Way said. “In general, it was a better atmosphere for the Notre Dame culture.”

After the show, student body president Lizzi Shappell said hearing the stories from the Notre Dame perspective made the issues more personal.

“Obviously the nature of the play is that it comes from Notre Dame students and I think that makes it more personal to our campus, and I think that makes the problem more real for us,” she said.

Senior Tricia Moye attended the performance Monday and said she thought the play should “definitely” be continued at Notre Dame.

“I think it brings open a lot of things that need to be discussed,” Moye said. “I think that people who don’t want things like this to be present on campus – I don’t think that does any good because it closes off discussions that need to be opened up.”

President of Notre Dame Right to Life Mary Liz Walter, who said she could not speak on behalf of the group, called the play “interesting” but recommended some edits and revisions if it is performed in the future.

“I’d say that ‘Loyal Daughters’ is more fitting for the Notre Dame setting [than the ‘Monologues’], though I can’t say I think it’s the best,” Walter said.

Several audience members, including Shappell, commented on the effectiveness of the second-to-last skit, titled “Loyal Children.” More than 20 cast members stood on the stage and around the theater wearing black tape over their mouths as, one by one, they removed their tape and told an instance of sexual violence that had been perpetrated against their character.

Way said the scene that struck her most was “Touchdown Jesus,” in which a student is sexually assaulted by a football player in the library. Way called the skit “graphic” and “intense,” adding that the show addresses important issues and should be staged at Notre Dame in the future.

The presence of men in the skits and the sharing of their stories about sexual violence was a valuable addition, Weisbecker said.

She had not originally planned to show the male experience, but said the inclusion of that perspective involves men without always typecasting them as perpetrators.

“It shows that sexual assault is not just a women’s issue – it’s everybody’s issue,” Weisbecker said. “Sometimes with other shows, like ‘The Vagina Monologues’ or the ‘Saint Mary’s Monologues,’ some people come away from it with the impression that all males are evil.”

The presence of men in “Loyal Daughters” broadens the discussion rather than limiting it to women, Shappell said.

“Men can and should be allies in this process in bringing this issue to light and they can be victims as well,” she said.

A written statement from Assistant Vice President for News and Information Dennis Brown restated Notre Dame’s zero tolerance attitude regarding all forms of sexual assault and violence. Brown described “Loyal Daughters” as one way Notre Dame combats violence against women.

“Those student survivors of sexual assault merit our gratitude for sharing their painful stories in this way,” Brown said in his statement.

The statement summarized the programs and activities Notre Dame offers to prevent sexual violence – including the Sexual Assault Advisory Committee, the Gender Relations Center and Men Against Violence – and encouraged victims of sexual violence to come forward and seek the help of Notre Dame’s health, counseling or police resources.