Stereotypes—we all deal with them, but seldom do we intentionally embody them to explore how painful they truly are.
Undressing the “Other”: The Naked Truth on Stereotypes is a show by women of color and white allies who use their own powerful stories to deconstruct stereotypes. Now in its third year, the show continues its provocative format. During the first act, each performer embodies a stereotype she’s dealt with. In the second act, she tells her own story about who she really is.

“It’s risky, but it’s honest,” said Stephany Hazelrigg on the process performers go through to prepare for their monologues. “We operate from the belief system that if we don’t talk about [stereotypes], even if it’s uncomfortable, and if we don’t name it as what it is, then we’re not doing a service.”

Hazelrigg is the show’s creator and director, and a recent Western graduate. When planning for Women of Color Week in 2005, Hazelrigg and other organizers felt that that women of color were underrepresented in campus productions. Shortly after the U.S. went to war, Hazelrigg noticed how discussions of global oppression, particularly of Muslim women and Afghani women, ignored the ways in which sexism plays out in our own communities.

Hazelrigg said many of the stereotypes placed on women came down to how they dressed, which gave her the idea for a fashion show.

“[The stereotypes were] very much attached to clothing,” she said. “It brought up issues of fashion, and I thought wow, that’s a really powerful tool, because that’s a really gendered and patriarchal tool. On a global scale, think about who makes those clothes. It’s usually women of color.”

“[We] very intentionally recruited women of color first… then brought white women into the discussion as allies to recognize that there is a global community here,” said Hazelrigg. “Recognizing how women of color had felt marginalized on other productions that went on on campus, we didn’t want to model that. We wanted to be really inclusive, but it was understood from the get-go that this was a space that expected diversity of all kind.”

Becky Renfrow, a Fairhaven student performing in Undressing the Other, describes the show as a two-act monologue performance.

“In the first act, people embody over the top, sometimes funny, sometimes painful, and always gross stereotypes that pertain to them or effect their lives in some way,” said Renfrow. “Then in the second act, they come out as themselves and tell the truth to deconstruct those stereotypes.”

Last year, performers acted out stereotypes that include a welfare queen, slut, black mammy, snake charming belly-dancer, white hippy, and dumb southern black girl. In the second act, the cast’s monologues explained how the stereotypes affect their own true identities.

Hazelrigg said many of the white ally performers deal with their race and white privilege in their performances.

“It’s really powerful,” she said, “because it puts words to things and emotions that audience members couldn’t articulate or identify.”

Nayeli Mercardo said being a part of this year’s cast taught her to love and respect herself for who she is. Mercardo is a sophomore and biology/pre-med major.

“I learned to be more outspoken,” said Mercardo, “to not be afraid to let everyone else know what do I feel, what do I think, what’s going on inside of me. Maybe some people are going through the same things that I’m going through, and it’s nice to share it, to let it out.”

Erica Mercker, a senior and English literature major, auditioned for Undressing the “Other” after she saw it last year.
“What I’ve got from previous performances is a feeling of empowerment, and self-confidence, and wanting to seek my own truth, and that’s one reason I’m in it this year,” said Mercker.
Elizabeth Johnstone, a junior and American cultural studies major, performed in Undressing the “Other” last year, and this year is Hazelrigg’s assistant. Johnstone auditioned when she heard no other Native American women would be in the show and she wanted to be sure a Native voice would be present. She also wanted to push herself past the nervousness she felt talking in front of people.

“I already know that [the audience is] going to be blown away,” said Johnstone on this year’s show. “I hope that every person will be able to relate to at least one stereotype, and I think a lot of people will be able to relate to a lot of them. I hope that it will make them able to examine themselves and how they stereotype others when they first meet them and don’t even know them.”

Cast member Maribel Galvan, a sophomore majoring in American cultural studies, said it was easiest for her to write her stereotype performance, but the most challenging to write about who she really is. She said some parts of the show will be difficult for the audience to hear.

“I think that when it hurts to hear something,” said Galvan, “when you feel sick to your stomach to hear something, when we feel uncomfortable, that’s for a reason. There’s meaning behind that and we can relate to it.”

The first performance of Undressing the “Other” is Tuesday, Feb. 27 at 7 p.m. in Viking Union Multipurpose Room.

This year, for the first time, Undressing the “Other” includes a men’s cast, which will perform separately on March 6. The men’s cast is facilitated by James Ray, a poet and Fairhaven senior who will also perform in the show.

Ray approached Hazelrigg after last year’s show and proposed that they create a show for men.

“I feel that the need for the men’s fashion show is to show support in women’s struggles,” said Ray. “Women’s struggles still exist. It’s not just going to change on its own. People need allies.”
“I think that’s important to see the other side of man,” he said. “Society places this blanket definition or stereotype over what it is to be a man.”

Cast member Cameron Murphey, a first year chemistry student, heard about the men’s show at a Western Men Against Violence meeting. Murphey has been exploring the teenage loser stereotype he dealt with in middle school.

“Looking back in middle school,” he said. “I realized the patriarchy isn’t just affecting women. We grew up thinking we have to be tough and hide our emotions.”

All performances of Undressing the “Other” are free, and donations will be collected for Healthy Choices for Girls and Lydia Place. Merchandise, including a spoken-word CD, ‘zine, stickers and t-shirts, will be sold the week of the performances on Vendors' Row.

Following each performance will be a dialogue between the performers and the audience.

“It’s really empowering and helpful. We want people to ask questions, we want people to challenge us if they feel the need to ask questions,” said Hazelrigg.