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Loyal’ receives positive student feedback, draws large crowd

Marcela Berrios | Friday, November 16, 2007

Onstage since Monday, “Loyal Daughters and Sons” will end its run in Washington Hall tonight after a weeklong effort to address sexuality and sexual assault at Notre Dame, from both the male and female perspectives.

Thursday’s audience of 337 was the largest the production has seen to date, and a similar turnout is expected tonight, according to junior Sarah Van Mill, one of the show’s head writers.

“Loyal Daughters and Sons” has been averaging about 200 people every night, she said.

And the feedback from those hundreds of attendees – mainly students and faculty members – has been nothing short of “amazing. I haven’t heard a single bad thing about the show,” Van Mill said after Thursday’s production.

The reaction Van Mill has observed this year is consistent with the one last year’s organizers noted. “Loyal Daughters and Sons” used 60 percent of the creative material that made up its predecessor, “Loyal Daughters.”

Van Mill and the show’s original writer, then-senior Emily Weisbecker, conducted interviews with different sexual assault victims last spring to develop the new material included in this year’s show. Some of those new stories dealt particularly with the male view of the issue – a perspective Van Mill and director Meghan O’Donoghue wanted to emphasize this year.

They added the phrase “and Sons” to the original title because they didn’t want to alienate men who might think the show is exclusively about women’s issues and also because they think it’s important to be open about the role of men in sexual assault cases.

“The [new] title explicitly shows men are a part of this issue, too,” Van Mill said. “And the only way these victims [of sexual violence] – and the entire Notre Dame community – can begin healing these wounds is by being vocal and honest about these issues. Sexual violence happens here, inside our bubble, and that’s something both men and women need to be aware of.”

Three new sketches deal with the male view of sexuality and sexual violence at Notre Dame, including a scene where a male student defended his religiously motivated decision to abstain from having sex with his girlfriend despite pressure from his friends to do the contrary.

The second new story features a homosexual student who is a victim of sexual assault at a party, while the third deals with men who are harassed or seduced against their will by women.

The male actor in the third sketch, Michael McConnell, poses the question of a double standard in the sense that when men try to seduce women against their will, it’s frowned upon more than when the roles are reversed.

In addition to these new stories, “Loyal Daughters and Sons” reused some of the male-oriented material featured in last year’s production, which is what originally made then-freshman Kevin Stein want to participate in this year’s show.

“I went to the show last year and thought it was moving and effective in transmitting the message that sexual assault is real at Notre Dame and that it’s something that concerns both men and women,” Stein said.

Now a sophomore and an actor in “Loyal Daughters and Sons,” Stein said he thinks last year’s show was already, in a way, “Loyal Daughters and Sons” because it did a good job presenting all the different people and angles that are affected by the issues.

“Such a big part of last year’s production was that it did include so many stories about men and how they see these issues, and that’s why I became interested in joining the cast this year,” he said.

“Loyal Daughters” director, Madison Liddy, said she also thinks that even though last year’s show lacked the “and Sons” phrase in its title, the script did not exclude men from the discussion.

She said the decision to limit the title to women only was simply driven by the original mission of “Loyal Daughters,” which was to give women a voice and a forum where they could discuss sexuality and sexual violence issues.

And the show succeeded in doing that, she said.

Liddy said she’s noticed “words like ‘rape’ or ‘sexual assault’ are much more common on campus now, whereas before last year’s production, they were more taboo.

“And now that Notre Dame has accepted the issue is real and that a discussion of it is needed, the next logical step is to include both genders in the debate, to reconcile them,” Liddy said.

Van Mill said she’s noticed more and more all-male groups attending “Loyal Daughters and Sons.”

“You can usually tell if a guy is here simply because his girlfriend or his female friends dragged him,” Van Mill said. “But there are a lot of groups of guys that just come to the show not because their girlfriend forced them, but rather because they’ve heard good things about it or they’re just interested in the issue.”