As students filed in and out of Proctor dining hall on Monday afternoon, a group of student actors staged a performance activism piece called “Laurie’s Big Apology” on Proctor Terrace. Performers played a cast of characters from the administration, board of trustees and student body, while other students handed out pamphlets detailing their demands of the administration.
The piece was created by Eliza Renner ’18, Elizabeth Dunn ’18, Emma Ronai-Durning ’18.5 and Matea Mills-Andruk ’18.5, who also helped formulate the list of demands.
The piece follows months of tensions between the administration and student body, which were evident in last Thursday’s town hall.
Renner noted that although the development of “Laurie’s Big Apology” began before the town hall, it reflects many of the same frustrations voiced last Thursday.
“The town hall was also just another classic example of stalling tactics and making students feel like their voices are heard when they’re not,” she said.
“Performance activism was just a different way of communicating our message,” Dunn said. “I, and probably other people, was drawn to performance activism because I think a lot of the time activism can be very draining since it focuses on negative and painful topics, and I really wanted to do something with a group of people that was more light-hearted and fun even as it satirized a very serious topic.”
“Students have protested, students have joined student councils, students have met with members of the administration, students have joined every committee, students have met with every administrator and the message isn’t getting across, so this was just another tactic,” Renner said.
The performance began with the entry of three Middlebury “cheerleaders” who riled the crowd with call-and-response cheers, including “When I say rhetorical, you say resilience!” and “In-clusivity! In-in-clusivity!”
Then entered Dunn, Kizzy Joseph ’18 and Shaun Christean ’19, who collectively portrayed Addis Fouche-Channer ’17. The Campus reported in September that Fouche-Channer, who graduated last spring, claims to have been racially profiled by a public safety officer in the wake of the March 2 protests. The college disputes her account, even though a judicial official terminated the case against her in May.
Next filed in a procession of students playing college administrators, including Renner as President Patton. They were joined by two masked individuals posing as “trustees.” The performers made speeches satirizing each administrator, using critiques commonly leveled against them by student activists.
“I know no one in this community would do anything to fracture this community, right?” said Renner at one point. “That includes but is not limited to chanting, spitting, yelling, breathing and sneezing. And laughing.”
Renner also referenced the administration’s use of committees to address the concerns of students.
“We are thrilled to announce a very exciting development,” she said. “That’s right. We are implementing a new focus group that will form a subcommittee on inclusivity at Middlebury.”
Renner made overtures toward an apology but was stopped when Tyler McDowell ’19, playing college spokesman Bill Burger, rode onto the terrace on a toy car. The three Addises then gave testimonies to their innocence from the March 2 protests.
After these testimonies, McDowell discouraged any admission of guilt from Renner.
“You needn’t apologize, you’re the administrator!” he said.
The administrators then walked off the terrace and left Alex Rodgers ’20.5, playing Judicial Affairs Officers Karen Guttentag and Brian Lind, to point and yell “You get probation!” into the crowd.
The piece was playful, but Renner was careful to ensure that it complied with college guidelines and that was not mean-spirited.
“I think as a community we can call each other out and we can criticize each other, and it doesn’t mean we don’t love each other,” she said. “I have gratitude for a lot of members of the administration, and I care so much about the people that make up this campus, and so I have no interest in doing something that’s fueled by making fun of someone.”
Renner also made clear that the performers acknowledge the constraints the administration is under from the trustees, who were looming figures in the piece.
“We don’t want to vilify the administration and we are not trying to say that this is all President Patton’s fault,” she said. “So yes, President Patton needs to apologize, but we recognize the pressure she’s under, and she isn’t some singular unit.”
College spokesman Bill Burger declined to comment.