Salt-N-Pepa’s “Let’s Talk About Sex” played from the speakers of Trumbull’s Nick Chapel as the audience settled in to hear the stage reading of “Blanket Statement,” a senior project in American Studies by Lily Shoretz ’16. The direct nature of the music choice reflected the frank dialogue about to transpire on stage. “Blanket Statement” was the culmination of interviews with 15 Yale students on their experiences with sex education at home, at school and with friends, in the media and through personal experience. The interviews were spliced into a series of monologues and sorted thematically.
Six actors played two or three roles each without overt distinction among characters, but storylines began to emerge throughout the hour and a half of interwoven text. At moments, it was difficult to ascribe an actor’s words to one character or another. However, this served to strengthen the common themes among the characters’ experiences, as well as to comment on the diversity of interactions with sex education that can be experienced by an individual. There were moments when one monologue ended and another followed, as if the interviewees had been speaking with each other and learning from that conversation.
The feeling of a comfortable conversation between strangers was one that encompassed the audience. By touching on a variety of themes and exploring the vastly different roles that sex education has played in the lives of Yale students, “Blanket Statement” inspired audience members to reflect on the sexual narratives in their own lives. Prior to this show, I had never thought about how other people might have had a very different story of their awareness and education about sex. Growing up with one family, in one school, with only one narrative of personal and media experience, it is easy to forget the multiplicity of sexual worldviews that exist around us.
Playwright Shoretz and director Anya Markowitz ’17 emphasized the idea of a continuing conversation in their rehearsal process, using the space to let the actors share their own experiences with sex education. This aesthetic came through in the naturalistic readings of the script, and the strength of the ensemble lent a visible atmosphere of appreciation and support to their performance. The choice to let the interviews speak for themselves without attaching judgment to them was a powerful one, allowing audience members to process and reflect in an individualized way.
Humor was also utilized to great effect. Shoretz explained that humor ended up playing a much greater role than she ever anticipated, but that “I wish we all knew how to laugh about [sex ed] a little more!” Ridiculous, real-life anecdotes kept the momentum going and the dialogue fresh. By letting audience members know it was okay to laugh, the play better prepared them to receive more difficult, shocking or uncomfortable moments. The experience was meditative as well as provocative.
Although there was a wide range of stories and sexualities represented on the stage, I found myself wishing the interviews could have explored the intersection of sex education with other identities beyond sexuality — for example, race or gender identity. I found this to be a very successful format for discussing often uncomfortable issues, and I hope it can be extended in the future. On her choice for presenting her thesis as a play, Shoretz said, “I believe very strongly in the power of storytelling as an activist practice and that progress can only come when … shame/stigma … is relieved.” The performance that took place in Nick Chapel was only the beginning of many conversations, inspired by the platform “Blanket Statement” created for candid, diverse reflections on sex and sex education.