It started out being about sex. But as Christina Liu ’13 was writing her play last summer, there was what she called “a distinct shift” in its direction. This Is Not a Play About Sex, for which Liu received a University Studies grant to write and direct, became about much more than her intended topics of sex, the body, and sexuality.
The play originally debuted on campus in October over Family Weekend, but it’s become such a phenomenon that Liu is bringing it back for an encore performance this Sunday, December 2, at 2 p.m. in Ryan 212.
Liu, a theater and women’s studies double major from Shanghai, got her inspiration from three years of acting in and last year directing The Vagina Monologues — soliloquies about the experience of womanhood that have been performed internationally.
Like that play, the script for This Is Not a Play About Sex is composed of monologues based on interviews with real people. Liu conducted her interviews last spring with 26 students — 13 men and 13 women.
“I wanted to encompass all gender identities, all sexualities … my goal was to capture as many different perspectives and behaviors and attitudes as possible on campus, to have a more complete portrait of sexuality and sexual expression at Colgate,” Liu explained.
After transcribing more than 30 hours (300 pages) of interviews, she began working on the script and found that “something very unsettling was happening,” she said. “I realized that with everyone I interviewed, regardless of what they’re affiliated with, their gender, or their class year, there was this undertone of dissatisfaction across the board, and people feeling not fulfilled. I found that troubling.”
That’s when the play became more complex: “I think sexuality was a door through which to talk about fulfillment. My takeaway message has to do with happiness and why it is that we’re not obtaining the things that we need to feel happy or fulfilled or sexually satisfied or pleasured.”
Liu formed her cast with 21 students, some of whom delivered monologues based on their own interviews. Using rehearsals as an activist platform, the group treated the monologues as a jumping-off point to share their own experiences and talk about steps toward positive sexuality on campus.
“I wanted this play to take on more of an activist role than just a performance piece for people to feel good about and think ‘that was nice’ and leave with it,” Liu said.
So, she is developing a take-home packet as a way for people to further the discussion with their own groups and organizations. Liu is also working with university deans to get the conversation started earlier by introducing it into the first-year experience.
With more than 400 people attending the first three shows, a follow-up Brown Bag discussion at the Center for Women’s Studies, and a film screening of the show, Liu’s plan to spark a campuswide dialogue is working.
“When I thought of the project before the show [debuted], I thought the performance would be the pinnacle,” Liu said. “But now something new is happening. I underestimated the need for people to talk; people are really grasping on to this as an opportunity to have conversations.”