Valencia Theater Professor Unveils New Play at Rollins College Theater

When Sonia Pasqual began working on her master’s thesis – a series of monologues, dance, painting and poetry that eventually formed a play – the nation was in turmoil. George Floyd had died at the hands of police in Minneapolis; Black Lives Matter protests had taken to the streets across the country; and a pandemic had forced people into their homes and dramatically changed Americans’ lives.

After witnessing these events and spending a year researching societal issues, Pasqual was inspired to write a piece of experimental theater, a devised ethnodrama that is a work of social justice theater. Her goal was to capture the voices of people who face discrimination every day – and how that steady drumbeat of discrimination wears them down – and distill their narratives into a play.

The result, “Conscious Voices,” was performed in early June at Rollins College’s Annie Russell Theater, and it made history. It was the first time that a play written by a black woman had been performed at the Annie Russell Theater in the theater’s 99-year history, according to Rollins theater officials.

Sonia Pasqual, author of the devised ethnodrama “Conscious Voices,” poses for a portrait in the Black Box theater on East Campus on June 16, 2021 in Orlando, Fla.

Pasqual, who earned her master’s degree in liberal studies from Rollins in May, wrote the play as part her thesis, but the joy came in collaborating with friends and colleagues.

A veteran stage lighting designer who teaches theater tech and makeup and stagecraft at Valencia College, Pasqual reached out to friends and former students both in Orlando and around the country. What she wanted, she explained, was a series of narratives, based on their feelings about being discriminated against. “A lot were interested, but a lot were scared because it required them to be vulnerable. It asks you to tell your story,” she says.

Together, they became the voices of black men, brown women, nonbinary individuals, feminists, and overweight women, who struggle with body image and bias.

Valencia College grad Hannibal Callens plays the “Voice of Blackness” in “Conscious Voices,” which was staged recently at the Annie Russell Theater at Rollins College.

All of these stories are personal to me,” says Pasqual. “With the exception of the nonbinary individual, all of them have meaning to me.”

While audiences might expect monologues about discrimination based on race, Pasqual wanted to expand the view. So, she reached out to some friends who struggled with their weight and, as a result, their body image.

“It was a personal story for me as well, as a person who’s not thin, who has curves,” she says. “In my thesis, I talked about body image and fat-phobia. Women don’t get the same wages as men who are overweight. It felt like it was very important to talk about that — because it’s about bias and discrimination. It’s woven into how heavier women get certain employment roles versus the woman who is slender. There is an -ism, a bias against overweight women.”

Working with her friends and colleagues, Pasqual began writing in September 2020. “I think the hardest part was, I became a therapist. People were venting, crying. It felt very human. It wasn’t difficult. It felt very freeing at the end of it,” she says. “A lot of people felt better, happier. We all recognized that we had similar stories — which was that we felt like we didn’t belong in American society.”

Using short stories written by her friends, Pasqual teamed up with Dr. Marianne DiQuattro, professor at Rollins, and Margaret Stewart, rising senior at Rollins, to transform the short stories into a script. The play was performed twice at Rollins in early June; a virtual performance was also held on June 14.

What’s next for Pasqual remains to be seen. “I have fallen in love with the process. I have always liked experimental theater, devised theater, because you can create your own type of narratives. Right now, I feel very passionate about putting a lot of narratives out that are not normally seen or heard.”

There are projects or people that I ‘m thinking about,” she says, “for Conscious Voices, part two.”

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