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Inside Out: Performance ensemble helps students tell their stories

  • Inside Out Theatre:
    Inside Out Theatre:  Students with Inside Out Theatre perform "Poor" written by Hannah Mawyer.  Photo courtesy of Roxie Patton
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New student orientation is the first time new William & Mary students come together and have the potential to meet new people from all walks of life. This exposure to diverse lived experiences can be comforting for some and new for others.

For Inside Out Theatre, sharing stories of diversity — the lived experiences of William & Mary students — and encouraging discussion between new students and their exposure to perhaps new ideas is important to the orientation experience. A group devoted to sharing diversity in the student body through spoken word poetry, Inside Out Theatre provides an important performance discussing a variety of topics including include race, gender, sexuality, religion, disability, neurodiversity, veteran status, race, sexual orientation and gender to students old and new.

{{youtube:medium:left|Qwf2ZgbN3-Y, Inside Out Theatre: Raw words for understanding}}

Inside Out Theatre started as the brain child of Margie Cook, former assistant director of the W&M Center for Student Diversity, and Artisia Green, associate professor of theatre, who realized that there was a need for student stories to be a part of the orientation experience, said Roxie Patton, associate director for the Center for Student Diversity and leader of Inside Out Theatre.

“Our sole purpose is to find spaces (for students) to feel empowered to share their stories, and for those stories to impact the other students on our campus; to give people the opportunity to walk in someone else’s shoes for a minute; and to understand that diversity is multilayered and faceted and that we all bring it to the table,” said Patton.

Getting up on a stage and performing raw, unfiltered poems about life, trauma, race, school and family can be daunting. Many of the students in Inside Out Theatre actually don’t have any previous acting experience. Nevertheless, the students of various years perform incredibly moving and cathartic pieces that portray real experiences, either their own or others’.

“Live performance gives you the opportunity to confront these issues in a really non-confrontational way,” said Patton. “Putting up that fourth wall allows people to engage in empathy rather than engaging in this sort of me versus them. You’re being asked to experience along with the person performing what their daily life is like.”

{{youtube:medium:left|NxPq-1j7_KA, Inside Out Theatre: Students find their voices}}

Many of the current members of Inside Out Theatre are new students. Aida Campos ’20 spoke about her experience as a transfer student, coming from a diverse community back home, to a new environment at William & Mary.

“I was very intimidated coming here in the first place,” Campos. “But when I found these spaces where there is so much potential for discussion and change in a historically white institution with a history of slavery, that gave me hope and that motivated me.”

Last year, Inside Out Theatre began performing for more than just new student orientation. The students even traveled to Richmond to perform for the University of Richmond during its new student orientation, helping their students to write their own stories.

“Everything about Inside Out Theatre makes me proud,” said Patton. “Inside Out Theatre is having no shortage of work right now.”

The students emphasized the flexibility of the participation in the group. Some student strictly perform, strictly write, or do a little of both.

“We also don’t only just do poetry. You can submit narrative, prose, a play. It’s all useful,” said Campos. “There are different avenues to share your story. There’s no one way to tell your story.”

For those who feel hesitant to share their experience or their story, the students were adamant about finding comfort in sharing.

“If you’ve never heard your story before, then it’s definitely worth sharing. It’s likely that a lot of people haven’t heard it either,” said Dean Robinson ’22. “Every new perspective is a worthy perspective. If you want more people to understand you and more people to identify with you, then you’ve got to share your story.”

Although spoken word is not strictly the only way to share, it is a memorable start that Inside Out Theatre provides during new student orientation. Those hesitating to share their story are understood by those in Inside Out Theatre, but, as Campos puts it, “Give us that seed, and we’ll turn it into a huge, beautiful forest.”

Inside Out Theatre meets on Monday nights at 5 p.m. in the Center for Student Diversity in Campus Center. Students of any year are welcome to join or contribute. To find out more, visit the Center for Student Diversity online and in person.