The Show Every First-Year Student Will SeeThe Sedehi Diversity Project performances that are part of Muhlenberg’s Orientation Weekend are meant to generate discussion among students, faculty and staff.
By: Meghan Kita Thursday, August 24, 2017 02:25 PM
Drew Maidment ’18 snaps his fingers, and lights shine down upon the seats inside the Trexler Pavilion Studio Theatre. He and the Sedehi Diversity Project’s six other student actors stand from their places in the audience and introduce the first segment of this year’s performance in unison: "November 8, 2016. Election Night."
One by one, each of them delivers a line or two, pulled from confidential interviews with Muhlenberg community members, before descending to the stage and taking their places atop small black boxes.
Every member of Muhlenberg’s Class of 2021 will see the performance that follows as part of Orientation Weekend. The Sedehi Diversity Project (SDP), named after founder Desirée Sedehi ’08, produces a new show each year, with oversight from faculty advisor Troy Dwyer, associate professor of theatre & dance.
The students behind the Project interview peers, faculty and staff of different backgrounds to compile a script that’s organized around several themes. This year’s show opens with a segment on the effect of Donald Trump’s election at Muhlenberg, and it goes on to address accessibility, gender, race and a variety of other topics that multiple interviewees chose to talk about.
"It gives a voice to queer students, students of color, students that are in the minority—it gives them a space,” says Mikaela Esposito ‘19, SDP’s project manager. “And, it helps the freshmen students who are part of those minority groups to feel more comfortable here. We’re encouraging the freshmen to face experiences they’re not familiar with and to let them know, ‘We’re excited for you to go on this journey with us.'"
SDP’s director, Bree Booth ‘19, acknowledges that the show can be intense and sometimes uncomfortable to watch, but that’s part of its power.
“I hope that students are moved by it and want to continue these conversations,” she says. The goal is to generate an honest discussion—among first-year students, returning students and Muhlenberg faculty and staff—about how to foster a welcoming, diverse community.
Ensemble member John Smith ‘19 remembers the effect of the SDP performance he saw when he was a first-year student: “People were still talking about it weeks and months and years later.”
That’s what inspired him to audition for the show last year and, when he didn’t make the cut, to try out again this year. The challenge, he says, is to embody the words you’re performing—even when they don’t reflect your personal beliefs or opinions.
“You’re not just connecting with the audience,” John says. “You’re digging your hands into the life force of the students at Muhlenberg.”
While first-year students are the primary intended audience, the performance at 9 p.m. on Sunday, August 27, is open to Muhlenberg faculty, staff and returning students—and that tends to be the most interactive performance.
"When you have faculty and staff members showing up to learn a thing or two from students, that's a great thing for a college community," Dwyer says.
To reserve free tickets for Sunday's 9 p.m. performance, email firstname.lastname@example.org.