‘Show Some Skin’ provides anonymous platform for personal stories from Notre Dame community
Selena Ponio | Thursday, February 22, 2018
This weekend, monologues that present a wide range of lived experiences, issues and raw emotions will be brought to stage with one promise to their authors: anonymity.
These monologues, written by members of the Notre Dame community, will be performed onstage at the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center as part of the student production “Show Some Skin.” According to its website, the show “strives to be a catalyst for the campus community’s discovery and appreciation of Notre Dame’s true diversity.”
“It could be your roommate’s story. It could be the person you sit next to in class,” Natasha Reifenberg, senior and executive producer, said. “The anonymity aspect is what allows for empathy in ways that other avenues don’t because it could be anyone. It could be someone extremely close to you that has never shared this with you.”
This year’s “Show Some Skin” production is called “Try Us,” titled so as to invite writers to “share the parts of themselves that they feared nobody would understand,” according to the event’s Facebook page. Reifenberg said demand has grown exponentially since her freshman year, when there were between 30 and 40 writing submissions. This year, she said, there were 100 submissions and a record number of 75 students who auditioned to perform the monologues on stage. Tickets sold out within hours, and Friday’s performance sold out in 30 minutes.
“We go beyond the sanitized diversity and inclusion platform that Notre Dame provides institutionally,” Reifenberg said. “Reading through the monologues this year made me cry, and it made me reflect on how people give so much to us knowing that they’re never going to get any recognition for writing this incredible piece of writing. And it’s because they believe in the show’s mission, and we wouldn’t have a show without people trusting us.”
Reifenberg first heard of the student-led production as a prospective student in high school touring Notre Dame. It was the same weekend “Show Some Skin” was showing, and she spoke to student leaders who raved about the production, she said.
“I voiced some concerns about coming to Notre Dame as a student who was not conservative or Catholic, and they all said ‘Show Some Skin’ was this incredible platform to give voice to marginalized issues,” Reifenberg said.
Before she knew it, Reifenberg was auditioning as a freshman with no prior theatre experience.
“It was definitely intimidating, but you have so much adrenaline running through you,” she said. “I also believe that storytelling is what has the power to change hearts and minds. Not arguments.”
Senior Liam Kenney, an actor for this year’s show, said he loved the show from watching it the previous year and was convinced to audition after recalling how much he enjoyed his speech and debate club in high school.
“People aren’t performing characters in this show,” he said. “In a sense, they’re embodying real people instead of a typical theatre show.”
Kenney said he is performing a monologue about a gay man struggling with Catholicism and his sexuality, and that it took lots of practice, reading lines carefully and speaking to people who had similar experiences to be able to deliver it genuinely. He said he thinks anyone can benefit from seeing the show, especially those who may not be as exposed to the themes it presents.
“From my perspective as a straight white male, I am the most common Notre Dame student, and in my circles I don’t get to see those experiences,” Kenney said. “It opened my eyes that this is such a domestic issue. This happens at Notre Dame and people at Notre Dame have experienced a wide variety of injustice or uncomfortable situations.”
Kenney said the reason the actors become nervous before they perform their monologues is because they want to ensure they do justice to the original writer. He said he worries about forgetting a line that the author may have thought vital to the piece and feels a greater sense of responsibility due to the personal gravity of the content.
“Every person’s concern was, ‘How do I give 100 percent of myself to this piece, how do I fully express the sentiment that this person is trying to convey?’” he said.
The show has expanded its impact beyond its three days on stage, Reifenberg said. She said the cast has done 75 class visits where they have performed monologues, done thematic performances on sexual assault, incorporated monologues from incarcerated people and done resource panels. They are also partnering with Indiana University South Bend students to put on a community show at the South Bend Civic Theatre on April 7.
“My faith has been restored in this campus because of the reaction to the show,” Reifenberg said. “I’ve poured so many hours into this and I’ve been able to see so many people grow and transform, and I’ve seen myself grow and transform.”
Reifenberg said it is impossible to fully buy into the community aspect of Notre Dame without giving voice to the marginalized parts of the community, and that’s exactly what “Show Some Skin” strives to do.
“We have so few spaces to talk about these issues that have been weaponized politically in human terms and what is at stake for the people who are suffering the most from our inability to go beyond the surface,” she said. “It’s a way to take a magnifying glass to campus to make visible things that you never saw before.”