The students at Pacific University have been known to tackle the topic of gender identity in the most creative ways. Senior Stephanie Landtiser has continued the tradition by presenting a genderless musical for her senior capstone.
Over the fall and spring semester, Landtiser single handedly wrote the script, music, and score of the first act of her original full-length musical “Images,” which explores the concept of gender and the struggles of identity through a unique perspective.
“Essentially, the play takes place in future time, where gender has been eliminated from society,” senior stage manager Megan Moll said. “We discover that there’s a third sibling named Cameron, who has learned about gender, and about how there used to be men and women, and identifies as male, instead of gender neutral like the rest of society.”
Despite the social norms in the play’s setting being significantly different from the real world, Moll is confident that the play will touch audience members who have ever dealt with obstacles regarding gender and sexuality.
“In a way, it’s very much like a child coming out as gay to their family, and being unaccepted, and pushed out of the household and essentially cut off,” Moll said.
“Images” held their auditions in late February, and to keep the gender neutrality in tact, Landtiser made the auditions completely gender blind.
Within these auditions, Landtiser chose to cast senior Alec Lugo, sophomore Gabie Mbenza-Ngoma and sophomore Kira Sorensen to portray her three characters. Landtiser was “blown away” by each of their performances.
“My character is Riley, and Riley is the youngest of three siblings, a high school senior, playing the role of the peacekeeper and trying to keep things sane in the household,” Sorensen said.
Sorensen is playing alongside Lugo’s character, Sydney, a struggling author, and Mbenza-Ngoma’s character, Ellis, the motherly character desperate to maintain control.
“It’s very interesting, because I’m a very feminine person, and I very much identify as female. It’s interesting to play a character who’s not necessarily constrained by gender roles,” Sorensen said.
Landtiser found her inspiration for “Images” while speaking with two of her friends when the conversation brought up the question of whether or not gender labels should be required in society.
Landtiser used this topic as inspiration for her senior project, and used it as a chance to become more involved with theatre during her final year at Pacific, all the while implementing her musical elements.
“This year’s senior class has a lot of people that are in both fields, theatre and music,” Moll said. “The crossover is really strong. I think our members who do both are very strong in both fields, which is fantastic, and brings the departments together which I think is really beautiful and awesome.”
While Landtiser has been involved with music and choir since the age of six, her entrance into the world of theatre has been fairly recent. After gaining experience in acting with Pacific’s production of “SMASH”, and her enrollment in the theatre department’s playwriting course during the fall of 2015, she wanted to continue exploring how far she could go.
“The theatre for me, before being in that show, was this ominous godly place, untouchable,” Landtiser said. “After being in the show, I was like, ‘I want to do something with theatre. This is accessible to me now, and I want to be part of it.’”
Landtiser expresses that gender identity is a vital topic to discuss, and is glad to have the opportunity of writing her script to show it to Pacific.
“Images” will be playing on May 1 in the BlackBox Theater at 5 p.m.