Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
“Are you a dude?” “No!” “Right on!”
This scene from the Welcome Play featured a genderqueer character meeting their roommate for the first time. Added to the script last year, this was one of several interactions that drew a strong vocal response from the packed crowd of Swatties.
The Welcome Play, formerly the Orientation Play, featured several interactions among clueless freshman trying to navigate college life. Interspersed with cheesy puns and pop-culture references, the play changes every year but maintains some traditional elements. Like in years previous, it began with an announcement alerting the audience that there had been an admissions-mistake and ended with a catchy song about safe sex and the widespread distribution of free condoms. This year, the play included a video segment parodying Doctor Who.
Abigail Henderson ‘15 and Patrick Ross ‘15, who were co-directing the play for a second time, revised and drastically shortened the script they wrote last year. Each of the characters represented different identities and interacted in both positive and negative ways with each other to educate the audience.
Most of the preparation for the show took place during orientation week. Although the cast was chosen beforehand, the show came together within 5 days. “When we get here for orientation week, it’s just nonstop, 24 hours a day. Except for sleeping, it’s 24 hours a day,” Ross said.
Unlike in previous years, the Welcome Play was not officially affiliated with Orientation. Although freshmen were given preferential seating, attendance was not mandatory. This change allowed upperclassmen to see the play, and it gave freshmen who would have been uncomfortable with the sensitive subject matter the chance to opt out.
The play had been drastically rewritten the year before. This year’s play followed roughly the same structure, although several things were taken out. “Last year, the play was very long because the Dean’s office asked us to put in information about SAMs, Worth and Public Safety and it was sort of an extension of the orientation week workshops. This year we didn’t have that burden. We had the ability to just make it fun,” Ross said.
However, the play did continue to address things they felt freshman should know about and covered everything from not blocking the drink machines at Sharples to how to apologize for saying something problematic. “We feel a lot of responsibility for sending good messages to freshman,” Henderson said. The play’s characters shed light on issues pertaining to social class, mental illness, sexuality, and race.
The comedy and the important subject matter complemented each other and provided another mechanism of conveying these ideas. “There’s been this dichotomy between humor and political correctness, and it’s been liberating to realize how much humor isn’t about putting people down or making fun of them,” Henderson said.
Even though the play covered a lot of serious issues, there are some subjects it only touched upon indirectly. “We talk about consent a lot, but we don’t talk about sexual assault. We don’t talk about what to do when your friend has been sexually assaulted,” Henderson said, who noted that she didn’t want to trigger audience members and thought that the subject was better handled in a more professional presentation.
“The Orientation Play captures its audience like no other presentation ever will, and it’s made for students, by students. It’s not the administration giving a PowerPoint presentation. It’s us, saying to you ‘this is what we want our school community to look like,’” Henderson said.
Featured image courtesy of Sayaka Marriam ’13.