When SUNY Buffalo State theater student Allison Monaco traveled to Rwanda in 2013 with the Anne Frank Project, she was struck by the amount of forgiveness she witnessed despite the atrocities inflicted upon Rwandans for decades. It was then that Monaco, a directing major and production manager for Casting Hall Productions, realized she could heal from the sexual abuse she experienced as a child. By writing the one-act “devised” play Sweatshirt as her senior thesis, Monaco was able to move toward closure and forgive the perpetrator.
Sweatshirt will be performed on Saturday, May 3, at 11:00 a.m. in the Donald Savage Theater and Communication Building's Flexible Theatre, as part of the college’s 16th annual Student Research and Creativity Celebration. It is free and open to the public. The 22-minute play will be followed by a talk-back with the cast, which is composed of 10 students and three alumni.
"I tried to make the play about violation and the steps the protagonist goes through to heal," she said. "There is nothing literal in the play. It is more abstract to make it more universal."
The title stemmed from a conversation Monaco had with Eve Everette, assistant director of the Anne Frank Project, before writing the play.
"I told her I had been sexually abused and even though I had pretty much healed, the experience still influenced my choice of clothes. It’s why I mostly wear sweatshirts."
The resulting play uses clowns to symbolize universal emotions. It has already been performed three times on campus and garnered positive feedback.
"Sweatshirt became the universal story it is today because Al took her specific story and made it abstract," Everette said. "She looked at the bigger picture. Sweatshirt represents not just sexual abuse, but all violation, and the struggle people endure to heal."
Monaco noted that sexual abuse is still a taboo topic.
"People want to sweep it under the rug—regardless of what school you went to or where you grew up. But you should be able to talk it about it and not feel helpless. Plays like this open up dialogue," she said, adding that after seeing it, about 20 friends and strangers pulled her aside to share their own stories of abuse.
Sweatshirt is a terrific example of the healing nature of theater.
"The power of telling your story is really amazing," she said.