“Welcome to Notre Dame! I’ll be your tour guide for the day …”
These are words familiar to nearly every student at Notre Dame, or at least anyone who’s ever taken a traditional tour of campus. Yet in the 10th annual production of Loyal Daughters and Sons, this casual, cookie-cutter tour guide introduction took on new meaning.
Like previous years, the show consisted of student actors performing anonymous monologues submitted by members of the Notre Dame community. The monologues were structured, however, as a metaphorical tour of Notre Dame’s campus — in effect, a tour of the complicated opinions and stories that the Notre Dame community has to share about gender issues, gender identity, sexuality and sexual assault on campus. The “Tour Guide,” played by William Dean Merriweather III, bridged the gaps between monologues by walking around stage and pointing out an imaginary Main Building or LaFortune Student Center.
According to Skyler Hughes, a co-executive producer of the show, the “tour” format carried an explicit intention: “Our thinking was to make [the show] real for the people viewing it. This happens here. Pointing out places that everyone knows makes that clear — these are Notre Dame stories.”
This stylistic choice by the producers perfectly complemented its 2016 theme, “What’s Next?,” by framing the monologues in a logical and Notre Dame-specific format in which to discuss the future of gender relations at the University. In its 10th year, the Loyal Daughters and Sons production sought to focus not only on raising awareness of the many issues concerning gender and gender relations at Notre Dame, but also to inspire action on the part of the Notre Dame community to address these issues. As stated in the program, “We wanted to recognize the progress that has been made over the past 10 years. … Now, we as a community have to figure out how to act.”
Some of the monologues also focused explicitly on this question of action. For example, “All or Nothing," performed by Natasia Buckley, detailed the story of a young woman undergoing the Title IX process for reporting a sexual assault. As the title suggests, she felt that she had too few options when it came to legal options after the assault. She could either take her reported case to trial, where, if found guilty, her attacker would lose his athletic scholarship and be forced to leave the University for a year, or she could drop the charges as though the assault had never occurred. The monologue had clear implications for University policy, asking for a middle ground between “all” or “nothing” when it comes to reporting sexual assault to the authorities.
Other monologues delivered a range of voices, stories and points of view. In “Single," Joe Crowley and Maddie Thompson played an engaged couple sharing their personal reasons for remaining abstinent until marriage as well as defending a traditional patriarchal family structure. In “The Script," a young man lamented the debilitating and alienating effects of campus hookup culture: “I took her virginity, and now we’re Facebook friends," he wryly noted. Other monologues explored the subtleties of victim blaming, the psychological trauma of rape and sexual assault and the complexities of consent. Each story was articulated powerfully by the talented actors, whose voices served as an effective conduit for the true and often emotionally-raw stories.
The set itself was simple, a clean stage save for one blue chair and one pink chair, a hint at the traditional gender binary which featured largely in many of the monologues. As director Anthony Murphy noted, in this minimalist theme, “Everything has a purpose.” The bare set allowed the content of the monologues to shine.
Yet in contrast its minimalist production aesthetic, the issues that Loyal Daughters and Sons dealt with were extremely complex. The question of “What's Next?” is not one that is easily answered. This manifested clearly during the panel discussion following Saturday’s show, when a representative panel of Notre Dame community members composed of moderator Kelsey Woodford, Dr. Elizabeth McClintock, director Anthony Murphy, former student body president Brian Ricketts, executive producer Skyler Hughes and sexual assault policy advocate Grace Watkins discussed questions raised by the show. The resulting discussion raised a myriad of difficult concepts: When we try to formulate a middle ground for victims reporting sexual assault, does this put undue responsibility or social pressure on the victim to decide their perpetrator’s fate? Could integrated dorms be a solution to double standards between men and women’s dorms? How do we teach our students safe sex, when the DuLac handbook essentially outlaws sex in the first place?
All that being said, moderator Kelly Woodford closed with a quote from the show’s founder, Emily Weisbecker Farley. She offered one obvious action that each member of Notre Dame’s community can take immediately: self-reflection. “What can you do personally?” she asks. “Do you step in or speak up when you see something that isn’t right?” The panel ended on the note of an urgent and important question: “How do you want to leave your mark on Notre Dame?” The tone of this question effectively embodied the message of this 10th production of Loyal Daughters and Sons, a call for personal action that ultimately spills over into communal action.