If I hear one more person say that treating women as second class citizens is a thing of the past, I don’t know what I’ll do. Evidence of the mistreatment of women, especially trans and non-binary women, is all around us. Thankfully, we have a performing arts department here at USF that stands to tackle these issues head-on — in a creative, performative way.
“Elevator Heart,” the Performing Arts and Social Justice (PASJ) department’s most recent production that showed Oct. 19-21 and 25-27, brings the injustice women are subjected to center stage.
This modular musical, directed by outside-hire Tracy Ward, starred a talented set of performers dressed similarly to soldiers, symbolizing women’s battles against the patriarchy’s societal expectations. The set wasn’t over the top, with just boxes, tables, shoes and chalk making up a majority of the props. The simplicity allowed the emphasis to be put on the empowering message the production intended to send. It started out with the short skit, “Ways a Woman Gets in Trouble,” in which the performers walked around the stage shouting examples of the contradictory judgements women face every day, as we are made to feel that we are never enough. If your skirt’s too short, you’re a slut. If your skirt’s too long, you’re a prude. These paradoxical assertions and expectations cause women to feel trapped within their own bodies.
Going off this theme of female bodies, represented as our “cells,” the performers tackle sexual harassment and assault, the pressure to be “pretty” and the sexualisation of female bodies from a young age. The stories they told and the songs they performed were deeply moving, with some being so similar to my own experiences that they drove me close to tears. All of the monologues performed told a powerful story, most of which being about confronting men who mistreat women.
However, the play did incorporate some heartwarming and satirical elements that provided comedic relief between the heavier parts of the musical, such as stories about women empowering other women and the ridicule of companies and institutions who aim to tear down women’s self-esteem. One of my favorite skits was, “Things a Woman Shouldn’t Do After 30.” This list included: beat up a panda, dance on a friend’s grave, yodel and become a serial killer. The list ended with “wear a crop top,” which was played up and met with gasps from the performers.
One of the cast members, senior Isa Crescini Williams, spoke on the connection between the play and the values at USF. Isa commented that the play was about “the mind, heart and soul” and aimed to convey that “human beings are not just bodies, we are not just stereotypes.” Every USF student is, in William’s words, a “full human being with a mind and heart and a soul.”
This production brings up all the intolerance, prejudice and abuse we encounter in life, while simultaneously convincing you that it’s worth living. Women at USF deserve to feel like they can do anything; seek any opportunity, confront injustice and not let anyone tear them down. PASJ continues to use performance art to bring to light the unfair discrimination in today’s world.