SHU presents the Defamation Experience

Kimm Beavers (far left), managing producer of “Defamation,” and the rest of the cast listen to Melissa Carden (far right), senior psychology major at SHU, respond to the play. Students and faculty joined the cast for a post-show discussion designed to fully engage the audience in the defamation experience. Photo by M.Bergman/Setonian.

Seton Hill University presented “Defamation,” Sept. 27, a nationally acclaimed play that explores the issues of race, religion, gender and class in a judicial setting. The play, a creation of Canamac Productions, comes to SHU at a time when controversy is at an all time high in the country.

Produced by playwright Todd Logan, the play offers a unique experience for the audience to engage in civil discourse being that they are the jury in the trial. “I wanted to write a play that covers the issues I started seeing in my life,” said Logan, who began writing “Defamation” after he began recognizing his own biases and saw an opportunity to allow others to recognize their biases as well.

“Defamation,” which first premiered in 2010, is a three-part event including the play, the deliberation and the post-show discussion. “The idea to make the audience the jury came about during my struggle to find an ending to the play,” said Logan. “I suddenly realized that I didn’t have to come up with an ending, that it would be up to the audience to decide.”

Now in its seventh year, “Defamation” has been performed at high schools, universities, theaters and other organizations across the country, with SHU being one of the latest stops on its fall 2017 national tour. “Programs like this challenge our students to think critically in ways that they may not have experienced had they not been exposed to theses types of topics,” said Elise Michaux, who coordinated with Jessica Mann in bringing “Defamation” to campus.

Although the coordinators were pleased with the outcome of the event, they had hoped more students would have shown up (roughly 30 students and faculty participated). “Students aren’t going to seek out these opportunities unless all of us collectively say this is an experience that you should be a part of,” said Michaux, who is also director of student involvement on campus. “It’s on all of us to encourage participation when these kind of opportunities present themselves.”

Canamac cast entered the courtroom (Cecilian Hall) as characters in the civil lawsuit of Wade v. Goldman. Regina Wade, played by Risha Tenae Hill, was suing Arthur Goldman, played by Brian Rabinowitz, for defamation.

From left to right: Jen Jones, professor of communication; Marissa Haynes, coordinator of service outreach; and Edith Cook, institutional researcher, were among some of the faculty and staff present in the audience. Haynes shared her thoughts on the fine line between preference and prejudice during the post-show discussion. Photo by C.Arida/Setonian.

After listening to both the defense council, played by Kimm Beavers, and the plaintiff council, played by F. David Roth, SHU students and faculty were faced with making the final decision as a jury who they would rule in favor of. Following the deliberation and final decision, the audience joined the cast for a discussion. “We do this with hopes that students will walk away with self-awareness regarding their biases, perceptions and experiences,” said Beavers, who is the managing producer and cast member in “Defamation.” “We hope to give them a broader perspective that will bridge the conversation.”

During the discussion, students and faculty explained why they voted the way they did, as well as expressed concerns regarding the issues presented in the play and how these issues impact their lives. Some members in the audience expressed how they feel when they are given the “look” in society, and others expressed how this “look” may be misinterpreted. One student agreed that she was worried she might have been viewed as racist if she did not vote in favor of the plaintiff, being that the plaintiff was black and the defendant white. However, she did say that ultimately this did not affect her final decision.

“These conversations are important and we need to have more of them, along with a push from faculty to encourage students to have them,” said Ricardo Hamrick, SHU resident director.

Hamrick feels that it should be a requirement for freshmen to attend events like this one. First-year students are required to attend a series of events throughout the start of the fall semester, most of which focus on preparing students for success in a college setting, not necessarily introducing them to issues of race, class, gender or religion.

“We will continue to have programs like this, continue to create opportunities, continue to create spaces because we know that showing you all of this and presenting it to you, no matter who is in the room, will affect them in a positive way and they will be able to gain something,” said Michaux. “Maybe it won’t change your mind but it will get you to see a different perspective that possibly changes your thinking, or maybe you just agree to disagree.”

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