Women’s and Gender Studies Program explore the real Southern womanhood

Lorraine Dresch remembers playing in the mud as an 8-year old tomboy in the series of autobiographies in the devised play “”Living beyond Southern Living: Personal narratives from Southern women.”

Liz Kirchner

Richer than a sweet potato pie, deeper than a ferny porch, “Living beyond Southern Living: Personal narratives from Southern women” explores the messier, funnier, more authentic lives of Southern women.

Written by Virginia Tech Women’s & Gender Studies Program students, this collection of autobiographical vignettes will be presented on Friday, July 26, at the Blacksburg Public Library (200 Miller Street) 5:30-7 p.m. and on Wednesday, July 31, at the Christiansburg Pubic Library (125 Sheltman Street),  6:30-8 p.m.

It’s a devised play, explains Bonnie Zare, Associate Professor, Women’s and Gender Studies in the Sociology Department at Virginia Tech describing the process in which a show is written collaboratively by a whole creative team.

“A group of 15 wrote stories and four were selected as especially memorable. We stitched together stories in a round robin, and that how the first stories were made. Then we added movement,” she said.

The play is “an autobiographical tell-all performance by four Southern women about self-understanding” the performance announcement says.

The title, “”Living beyond Southern Living: Personal narratives from Southern women” presents a Southern woman’s life different than the effortless, conformist womanhood presented in the glossy Southern Living magazine.

Instead of the magazine’s images of the South as women “happily making pie to serve to family waiting on porch rocking chairs,” says Zare, Instead, their edgy narratives examine gender expectations, religious beliefs, sexuality, and the physical body.”

Following a positive reaction from a public reading, the class was encouraged to take the play “on the road”.

“It’s been wonderful. We worked with a Brittany Harris of VT’s School of the Performing Arts and asked each person to add blocking movements on stage to bring out the variety and interest of the story in images and underlying messages from different perspectives.”

The stories touch on what it means to be a woman now in a Southern culture: feminism, the LGBT experience, racist assumptions, being told that marriage is the end goal no matter what, images of Barbie dolls and masks says Zare.

“Lots of different references that could sound like a large group of ideas, but what unites them is the sense of awakening and discovery,” she said.

Just as the play itself is collaborative, a Q & A period follows the performance.

“This is not just a safe space,” she said, “but a place where they’ll hear ideas that may resonate with them. We hope you’re at least a little disturbed by patriarchal oppression,” Zare said. “The story of this play begins with students from a graduate-level class about how they woke up to the social justice of feminism.”

“I would encourage the audience to go home and write about their own experiences and their own awakenings. In the future it could be a two-part performance, I think that we would ideally add an writing workshop. I believe in the power of stories and in the right circumstances when people are feeling inspired they can create the story in a story arc and see how powerful it is,” Zare said.

The flier for the event points out that some themes may be disturbing to some audiences, such as sex and abuse.

“Everyone is welcome. Ideally we’ll have high school students and upwards. High school. It’s a vulnerable time, a time of rapid change and questioning your identity and where you belong,” Zare said. “I would be delighted if high school students attended. Men women and people of all genders are welcome. I’m extremely excited.”

For more information visit Women’s and Gender Studies Program at Virginia Tech.