Theater challenges social norms through Inner Voices

Members of Inner Voices Social Issues Theatre rehearse Wednesday for their upcoming shows. Jeremy Berg

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Members of Inner Voices Social Issues Theatre rehearse Wednesday for their upcoming shows. Jeremy Berg

By Sarah Small

Tucked into the depths of the Armory, a group of nearly 15 students gathers in the Armory Free Theatre. The sounds of their laughing and joking echo through the dark room. Then suddenly the theater grows silent, only for a moment, before echoes fill the space once again. This time it is the performers reciting monologues and dialogues.

An afternoon of rehearsal has begun for Inner Voices Social Issues Theatre.

Inner Voices is a collaboration of theater and discussion. The group takes an interactive approach to addressing social issues by first performing a 40- to 50-minute play which focuses on one or more social issues. Following the performance, student facilitators take the stage to direct the audience in a discussion related to the social issues addressed in the performance.

“The discussion is as important as the performance,” said J.W. Morrissette, assistant program coordinator and instructor. “The performances provide the framework for discussion.”

The entire program is “very community driven,” said Kevin Reader, technical director for the group and graduate student. “It’s really alive, and it’s really creating something. It’s creating discussion that will move past the performance place.”

The ensemble focuses predominantly on the campus community, Morrissette said, and members concentrate the majority of their performances to locations on campus. Usually performances are held in the Armory Free Theatre, residence halls, sorority and fraternity houses. Occasionally they perform a selection of scenes for an audience in the Champaign-Urbana community.

The group itself is also community-oriented. The entire group takes an active role in the script-writing process by collaborating ideas and collectively generating a script based on the issues participants want to address.

“The shows are very personal,” said Lauren Rodriguez, senior in Education. “As a student, a lot of the issues are very relevant.”

The ensemble has covered issues ranging from gender inequality and racism to body image and healthy relationships.

“The sad thing is that there is no shortage of social issues,” Morrissette said.

Inner Voices tries to “surprise people a bit,” Reader said. The discussion that facilitators lead gives the audience something to think about or introduces them to a new perspective.

The members of Inner Voices are split between two shows: “Open Season” and “Endangered Black Girls.” “Open Season” addresses the issue of hate crimes, specifically those directed toward the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered community.

“Endangered Black Girls” is based off of the challenges facing black girls as they grow up.

The shows open next week and the following week respectively.

For the month of April, the group plans to do a performance which focuses on the issue of sexual assault.

“We provide a space for people to talk about some really tough topics, and provide a space for people to share and communicate and come together,” Morrissette said.