‘Undue Influence’ returns with revisions that address sexual assault
By Dana Venerable, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Monday, April 30, 2012
The Dartmouth Dance Theater Ensemble brought last May’s production of “Undue Influence” — a theatrical commentary on the pervasive issue of sexual assault at Dartmouth — back to the stage this past week with five performances, showcasing the production’s revisions and new cast members. The Sexual Assault Awareness Program and the Office of the President, helped bring the show back to emphasize how important discussion and awareness of sexual assault is at Dartmouth, according to a Hopkins Center press release.
The mission of “Undue Influence” — directed and choreographed by professor Ford Evans, director of the Dance Theater Ensemble — was to increase community awareness of sexual assault on campus, according to the press release. In the spirit of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, “Undue Influence” raised issues discussed last year, including binge drinking, rape, the Greek nightlife culture, Committee on Standards hearings and the lack of bystander intervention in problematic settings. “Undue Influence” also raised new issues through this year’s introduction of two adult characters, who represent the voices of parents, alumni and the College administration.
One of the new adult cast members was played by professor and theater department chair Peter Hackett ’75, who helped conceive “Undue Influence” with Evans. His portrayal of administrators and alumni was on target and very symbolic, particularly in one scene in which his character parties with his fraternity brothers while ignoring the younger students’ aggressive treatment of one another.
“People need to understand how powerful the alums are in decisions being made about social life on campus today,” Hackett said. “The administration saying that it is up to the students to solve this issue is absurd. We can all speak up. The theater department collectively took a stand on the issue, but this issue needs more support.”
Martha Hennessey ’76, who played the other adult role, had one of the most terrifying scenes in the production, in which her character described getting hit in the face for wanting to leave a fraternity. All of the stories in the show actually happened to people, and direct quotes from the administration were used for the script, according to Hackett.
The production overall was vivid, colorful, straightforward and dramatic, highlighting specific scenarios seen in fraternity basements, ranging from pong games to dance parties. All of the play’s scenes touched upon the issue of territorial power in fraternity basements while displaying the talent of the dancers involved.
“When people realized how powerful it was, we got all of this support,” Hackett said. “The cast consists of students who are willing to stand up and speak out about what they believe in. Without these types of students, there will never be change.”
The cast included returning members of the Dance Theater Ensemble as well as new faces, including Big Green defensive lineman Julian Flamer ’12, who played Will, a character that spoke out against assault and the poor treatment of women on campus. The new cast represented diverse students, cultures and viewpoints, adding a realistic element to this year’s show.
“I still go out as much and enjoy the night scene, but it has raised my awareness of what is going on around me in a major way,” Flamer said. “I have spread the word to my peers and want a group effort on preventing sexual assault.”
Christine Averill ’13, a returning cast member of the performance, played Heather, and she has been involved in running both of the shows. Averill said she was pleased that there were more performances of “Undue Influence” this year.
“I think the people who have seen the show have felt affected to some degree or another by it,” Averill said. “I think the show has sparked many conversations surrounding the issue of sexual assault. It has certainly been an effective step in the movement of social change, but there still are many people who choose not to participate in the conversation who would be vital for a true shift in culture here.”
The Dance Theater Ensemble’s message was as powerful as their dancing, as Averill, Chloe Moon ’13, who played Sophia, and Mayuka Kowaguchi ’11, who played Vivienne, displayed beautiful technique, passion and athleticism. As heavy and explicit as some of the scenes of assault were, there were also positive scenes that helped to illuminate healthy relationships.
Ariel Murphy ’12, who played Catherine, said in a discussion after Friday’s performance that the scenes of positive intimacy featured in the performance represented the hope for a better future and the possibility of changing the mindset and approach to relationships at the College. “Undue Influence” made an effort to focus not only on the negative aspects of our Dartmouth’s social scene but also on the whole story and what Dartmouth could be, according to Murphy.
The show helped address a serious issue through art and showcased the hard work and effort that the Dance Theater Ensemble puts into their annual performances.
“I don’t think people always realize how much effort the dance ensemble is putting in,” Hackett said. “I love these students, and I am proud of them.”
“Undue Influence” is more than a show — it is a movement that has begun to resonate on campuses elsewhere. The Dartmouth Dance Theater Ensemble performed at Colgate University this month, according to Hackett. The cast is planning to make a film from the footage of this year’s show to create “a permanent record,” Hackett said.
“Power dynamics among students, heavy drinking and administrations that seek to protect the name of the school are contributing factors to the issue of sexual violence ubiquitous across many college campuses,” Averill said. “Our group became particularly aware of that when we toured the show at Colgate, where many audience members expressed how the show paralleled many of their own experiences. I think it would be really great for other schools to see the show. The overall messages are very universal.”
An extremely powerful and emotional production, the message of “Undue Influence” will leave a lasting impact on the College and in the discussions of every student and staff member who has involved or who saw the show.
“It was one of my best experiences at Dartmouth College and an experience that will forever be a part of my life, no matter where it takes me,” Flamer said.