Actors perform on stage during the dress rehearsal for "This Emancipation Thing" on April 10, 2024 in the Zoellner Arts Center's Diamond Theater. The cast performed the final show on April 20. (Courtesy Marcus Smith '25)

“This Emancipation Thing” pushes the boundaries of theater


The Department of Theatre’s newest production extends beyond the realm of plays and musicals — “This Emancipation Thing” is a multimedia consciousness-raising session centered on feminist perspectives. 

The theater department and The Mustard and Cheese Drama Society collaborated with Sara Lyons, the writer and director of “This Emancipation Thing,” to bring the production to life. The multimedia performance about reproductive rights and Roe v. Wade debuted at the Diamond Theater of Zoellner Arts Center from April 12 to April 20.

With performances from actors Harley Roach, Virginia McMahon, ‘24, Rooster DeMotte, ‘27, and AJ Ostapovich, ‘27,  the cast created an environment filled with necessary conversation and satirical irony about the societal expectations of women. 

The audience was immersed in the collaborative installation, as the cast invited them to reflect on the wisdom and insights of those who fought for the landmark Roe v. Wade decision. 

The cast drew parallels to contemporary struggles throughout the performance, making the production an exploration of resilience and solidarity in the ongoing quest for gender equality. The topics discussed throughout the performance included sex, masturbation, abortion and suicide. 

After giving testimonies, the cast opened the floor to the audience to reflect. At some points, even Lyons shared insight and provided testimony. 

Over the years, Lehigh has opened the door to theater that aims to get students thinking about difficult topics and shaping their own values. This deviation from theater norms caught the attention of Roach, a cast member who attends DeSales University. 

 “Experimental theater isn’t common anywhere,” Roach said. “We have a conversation with the audience. It’s kind of not a performing art because it’s more of a discussion.”

Roach said she was introduced to this piece at Lehigh through her theater department at DeSales. She saw “This Emancipation Thing” as a big opportunity and knew it was something different from what she had seen before.

Roach said she’s always been interested in social activism, but she had never been a part of a politically motivated production before “This Emancipation Thing.” 

Kashi Johnson, professor and chair of the Lehigh’s Department of Theatre, said this production is relevant and significant on campus today. 

“Through the themes explored in the play, such as feminism, equality and social justice, we hope students will gain a deeper understanding of the diverse experiences and perspectives of women,” Johnson said.

McMahon, a performer in the production, said “This Emancipation Thing” allows audience members to get comfortable with the uncomfortable. 

“We find all these generalizations, and the whole point of finding generalizations within our personal experiences is so you tell a story about your life,” McMahon said. “Then, by the end of the show, you realize, ‘Oh wow, these are really common experiences that we’ve all had.’” 

Numerous workshops, rehearsals and discussions preceded the performance and were instrumental in shaping the production. Roach said these collaborative sessions served as a safe place for exchanging ideas, refining performances and delving into the thematic competitors at the heart of the play. 

“Part of our rehearsal was just reading historical texts and listening to people speak out against abortion bans,” Roach said. “Just learning all about that really enticed me.”

By reading these historical texts and listening to voices opposed to such bans, the cast members said they not only educated themselves, but also internalized the emotion and ideological stakes involved in the historic testimonials. 

“‘This Emancipation Thing’ really allows you to talk about things that you don’t usually get to talk about,” DeMotte said. 

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