September 5, 2015

Giving Voice to the Voiceless

Giving Voice to the Voiceless
April 9, 2010

More laughter erupted from the audience as senior Anna Procter raced back and forth across the stage. Portraying a small girl describing her dream about a clever princess who excels in school, Procter delivered the youthful energy and quick shifts in focus characteristic of a young child. The mood of levity was short-lived, however, changing quickly as the character asked her father why she would not be able to go to school.

This scene, along with many others performed by Procter for her theatre capstone last weekend, was based on research she and fellow senior Tabea Mangelsdorf completed during Principia’s India abroad this past fall.

Initially overwhelmed by the task of choosing a research topic, Procter shuffled through options until coming across the term Dalits. Curious, she read on to find that Dalits are people in India who are of such low social standing they are outside the caste system. They are known as “untouchables” or “voiceless people.”

“I found that intriguing,” says Procter. “That idea of voicelessness just sort of grabbed me.”

During the abroad, Procter and Mangelsdorf toured Udaipur, where they were staying, as well as a nearby village. They traveled by rickshaw, and Principia provided them with a driver and a translator, provisions that Procter gratefully admits made the project possible.

As a theater major, Procter was interested in the ways Dalits used the arts to acquire a voice. In the course of her interviews, however, she found no evidence that they did. “I thought, how could we, then, give voice to these people?” To assist in that effort, abroad leader and sociology professor Dr. Sally Steindorf allowed Procter to create monologues and Mangelsdorf to write songs based on their interviews, in lieu of a final research paper.

Once back on campus, Procter began working with the Theatre Department to create a senior capstone based on her monologues. The final product was a full-length show featuring Procter gliding between characters—men, women, old, young, wealthy, poor, college professors, and the uneducated—in a series of one-person scenes interspersed with Mangelsdorf’s performances of her songs. Mangelsdorf’s involvment in the show was “all out of her big generous heart,” says Procter, grinning with gratitude.

The final product, by turns humorous and touching, imaginative and gritty, reflects the sincerity with which both women approached the project, and the warmth they feel towards their many interviewees, who displayed, Procter says, “incredible generosity and openness.”

  • Palmer Aguirre

    Having been on the same India abroad with Anna and come to understand these “voiceless” people, I feel Anna’s performance did great justice in relaying the people’s plight. It exquisitely showed the audience the how immensely challenging life is as a Dalit. Through her monologue, skits, and songs which included actual recordings, authentic props, and exact accents, she portrayed great realism of the life, thoughts and mentalities of the Dalit. Before the abroad trip, the depths and complexities of this heart-wrenching lifestyle was one Anna hardly knew. I felt a large majority of the audience was the same. In reflection of her new perspective, Anna included segments which shared the evolution of her own thought as her understanding grew. In turn, this jaw dropping collection of works had the audience silenced as it portrayed the essence of “untouchables” in India.