Jessie Armstrong/Courtesy photo

For the second year in a row, the sold out show ended in a standing ovation.

Original Women’s Narratives (OWN): PowHerful Voices of Storytelling returned to Chumash Auditorium April 28 and featured a cast of Cal Poly women sharing their stories of intersecting identities and performing personal poems, letters, testimonies and monologues.

Graphic communication senior Morgan Gutierrez was an audience member when she saw the show last year, but immediately knew she had to
get involved in production.

“After I saw it, I felt instant regret. I had to be a part of it this year,” Gutierrez said.

Graphic by Jessi Armstrong

Gutierrez works with the Gender Equity Center (GEC) and offered to help with graphic design and marketing for OWN. At the last minute, she decided to audition and was cast to present two different pieces for the show.

The event was inspired by the well-known episodic play “The Vagina Monologues.” The GEC put on that play for several years but decided an original, more inclusive platform would empower women-identifying students to present stories of their own. The on-campus organization is not alone in their thinking. Other colleges around the country also started looking for new ways to share the experiences of women outside the confines of tradition.

Both this year and last, OWN performers covered topics such as feminism, gender, race, family, mental health and the life of a woman in college. Students of any year, major and background could submit a piece about a topic of their choosing. However, selected writings were not always read by the authors. Guiterrez read anonymously submitted pieces.

“It is such an honor to be able to deliver these stories of Cal Poly women,” Gutierrez said. “It’s hard being a woman here. It’s hard being any sort of underrepresented group at Cal Poly.”

By allowing individuals to submit their work anonymously, the GEC and the production staff of OWN hoped to collect a greater range of experiences while still creating a safe space for women to voice their thoughts. The yearly submission process also helps the production evolve and stay relevant.

The GEC wants to foster critical conversations and encourage those who are silenced to speak their minds.

“Women’s voices need to be heard. Especially in this country, at this time,” OWN’s student producer Vanaaisha Pamnani said. “This production is doing that in a very positive, in a very fun and in a very serious way.”

History junior Pamnani has been involved with the GEC since her freshman year and was in charge of the accompanying art installation for the first production of OWN. In leading the second year of the production, Pamnani said she found a support system and formed a lifelong sisterhood with the entire cast and crew.

“I want all women to know that there is support on this campus,” she said.

YouTube video

Video by Marie Leleu

For Pamnani and the rest of the team, one of the most fundamental and important aspects of the event was the idea of intersectional feminism.

Intersectionality is a word used to describe overlapping and interconnected social identities as they relate to systems of oppression and discrimination. Specifically, intersectional feminismhighlights the importance of taking these different identities into consideration and understanding that each individual’s unique identity impacts the way they experience life.

With the help of the San Luis Obispo community, student directors and performers of OWN brought the idea of intersectional feminism to center stage.

Students, local artists and women from the juvenile detention facility contributed artwork for the EmpowHerment Art Gallery, the art installation displayed inside Chumash Auditorium at OWN.

“What I love about OWN is that it’s not just a production, it’s ‘art-ivism.’ It’s activism with art,” Pamnani said.

Attendees had the chance to see unique drawings, paintings and photographs that addressed many of the themes seen in the performances.

After intermission, some performers delivered a trigger warning to the audience. The stories included potentially triggering events involving sexual violence and assault. On-site resources were available at the back of the auditorium and advisers were there to help guests during the performances.

Biological sciences senior Alexandra Wolman attended the event as part of a class assignment, but walked away with more than just
participation points.

“It was one of the most powerful things I’ve seen during my time here,” Wolman said. “Some of it was hard to hear but you could feel that everyone in the audience was right there with them, supporting them. It was really powerful and uplifting.”

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