Kirsten O'Brien/The AS Review
A fashion show is coming to Western, but it will be unlike any held in New York or Milan. There will be no long-legged models, expensive gowns or swarms of fashionistas eagerly waiting to see the season’s hot new trends. In fact, this is a fashion show that doesn’t concern fashion at all. Instead, the show focuses on the naked truth of each individual’s unique identity.
On Feb. 28 at 7 p.m. in the Performing Arts Center, the Associated Students Ethnic Student Center will host “The Naked Truth on Stereotypes,” a three-part theater production that seeks to expose and debunk the myths of stereotypes and identities. The event is free and open to the public.
“This is a celebration of all of our stories,” said Anthony Rego, public relations coordinator for the ESC. “Stereotypes exist throughout our entire society, creating lines that divide us in so many different ways. This is an event that celebrates all stories and truths by honoring and uplifting those voices within us that are silenced.”
Nine Western students will share their truths in this year’s production. Becky Renfrow, assistant director of the production, said in the first act, the individual will become a “stereoactor,” and play out an exaggerated stereotype of their choosing on stage. In the second act, they will debunk the misconceptions about that stereotype, as well as share other aspects of their personal identity. In the third act, after all the stereoactors have performed, there will be a time for dialogue and interactive discussion between the performers and the audience members.
Stephany Koch Hazelrigg, the creative director of “The Naked Truth on Stereoypes,” started the production in 2004 while she was a graduate student at Western. She was a performer in the “Vagina Memoirs,” the annual production sponsored by the AS Women’s Center. She noticed that while the experience was extremely powerful, it also validated many of the stereotypes that are held against queer people and women of color.
“Even in a place of empowerment, there was marginalization happening,” she said. “So I used the powerful and positive experience of being a part of Western’s “Vagina Memoirs” project but remembering and realizing that as a woman of color that we build our own stories and we need to tell them.”
She also began to reflect on how clothing and style of dress influences how stereotypes are created and reinforced.
During that time, the United States was deeply entrenched in battle in the Middle East. Hazelrigg noticed that there were not only anti-terrorism messages in the media, but anti-Muslim messages as well. She said that media repeatedly showed Muslims in a certain type of dress, and categorized an entire group of people that way.
“The media was using clothing to show who this population was and that is was okay to justify acts of war against them,” Hazelrigg said. “It got me thinking about the representation of clothing and how it’s really easy for us in the U.S. culture to judge groups of people based on what they wear.”
Within the United States, Hazelrigg noticed the itty-bitty tank tops worn by young teens to the so-called “power suits” donned by some female professionals to seem more masculine, and wondered if stereotypes were constructed in the same way fashion trends were.
“I asked, ‘What would it be like if we used this clothing and fashion metaphor to explore and explode oppression?’ and that’s what we did,” Hazelrigg said. “What if we could put on those identities and stereotypes as if they were clothing and then take them off, what would we really have to say?”
Western student Kylie Gemmell participated in the production last year. Her stereotype was that of a “valley girl”: a Caucasian, blond-haired female with an unhealthy obsession with the color pink and a penchant for using her daddy’s credit card. Gemmell said that performing in the production was an important experience for her.
“It’s a really empowering and powerful experience,” she said. “It steps out of what people normally want to talk about.”
Although the production is different every time based on the unique individuals who participate, Hazelrigg said that seeing performers reveal their true, “naked” selves would allow the audience to do some soul searching.
“You’ll see people be brave and speak to the truth of who they are, and that might motivate you to do some digging in your own self and step up to the truth of who you are,” Hazelrigg said. “This production speaks to the truth of the human experience and busts through the identities that divide us.”