At a time when students are discussing a need for safe spaces and peer-to-peer vulnerability, this weekend's Penn Monologues show created a lesser-known avenue of insight into Penn students' lives and personal stories.
The show featured 12 Penn students performing original monologues, telling their stories so that those in the audience might find a connection with their own experiences.
Entitled "Crossroads," this year’s show revealed prevailing themes of family failure, love, loss, courage and insecurity. Many stories culminated in an ultimate decision or realization that changed the speaker's perspective and reversed negative ways of thinking.
Body shaming was a common topic students addressed in the Monologues. Students spoke of being pressured to look thin to conform to a surprising variety of societal standards of beauty — the standards of gay masculinity, middle school bullies, NCAA Division I athletics and those of a gaggle of otherwise loving Vietnamese relatives.
The students used varying styles to tell their stories. Some were more serious, such as Wharton senior Emma Kloppenberg’s monologue “And I Laid Down Next To Her," which evoked the pain and consuming anxiety of losing loved ones to cancer.
Some were eloquent, such as College senior Angela Perfetti’s “What the Park Bench Saw,” in which she interspersed lists of things to do on a park bench and lists of Philadelphia suburbs with poetic comparisons, likening her soul to an albatross and the agony and joy of first love to purgatory.
Others had the audience laughing throughout, such as Engineering junior Langston MacDiarmid’s “Yogurt,” which discussed handling failure. He began by informing the audience that he started playing the viola at age 8, adding, “I cannot emphasize enough — no one gives a sh*t about it.”
College and Wharton senior and Penn Monologues Producer Aashna Desai said in her opinion, the show is truly born when the executive board spends a morning with the submitted monologues — laughing, reading and choosing which monologues speak to them and fit well together. There is only one rehearsal before the show.
Most of the chosen monologues were from juniors and seniors. Desai described participating in Penn Monologues as a transitional moment where students can reflect on their experiences at Penn and share them with others going through similar things in the moment.
“Not everyone up there is a performer," she said. "Most of them do not do anything else performing arts related, this is just one thing they do once a year or once in their Penn career.”
Desai also explained the difference between Penn Monologues and the Vagina Monologues, from which the show originally stemmed.
“I think the Vagina Monologues serves a whole different purpose," she said. "The key difference is that these monologues are completely 100 percent original and there is a whole different vibe every year. It’s people talking about who they are and also the Penn aspect of that.”
Though some might expect the Monologues to be critical of the University, "Penn-bashing" is not its goal, Desai said.
"That’s not what anyone wants to hear and that’s not really what drives who we are," she said.
Rather, the goal is to reveal the aspects of the speakers' lives that those who see them in their classes, meetings and social settings might not otherwise know, things about their childhood, family or inner struggles.
The Arch Auditorium was noticeably below capacity this weekend for Penn Monologues’ seventh annual show. However, Desai said she hopes to get more students to attend in the future.
She added that attending events like the Monologues can be a step toward opening up dialogue surrounding mental health, a subject many of the monologues touched upon.
"I think we talk a lot about mental health and spaces," she said. "Going to a show like this is a tangible action that you can take."
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