This is not an article about sex

Not technically, at least

It only comes once a year, and woe if you miss the treasured few showings of what has quickly become tradition at Colgate. This is Not a Play About Sex, written and directed by alumnae Christina “Poppy” Liu as her senior thesis, is more than a performance. It’s an attempt to start a conversation.

For those of you wondering: yes. It is about sex, but it goes so far beyond that.

Liu, who now lives and works in New York City as a performer, artist, and activist, conducted interviews with 26 Colgate students in the spring of 2012. She originally intended to ask them about sexuality and sexual expression, and then to transcribe these interviews in order to turn them into a play. While she did follow through with asking questions like “What kind of music does your penis listen to?” her project went much farther than she ever expected it to.

When TINAPAS was first presented to the Colgate community, it premiered in a small space on campus that is often used as a dance studio. It quickly grew so popular that Liu arranged an encore performance later in the semester. Now, a mere four years later, the show has grown so much that it occupies the much larger Brehmer Theater and its performances are widely anticipated each fall.

What makes TINAPAS unique is these stories are not paraphrased or embellished. Each and every word (apart from the first and last scenes) is directly transcribed from the interviews Liu conducted. The only words in the show that explicitly belong to her are represented in the few minutes at the very beginning and end.

Members of the 2016 TINAPAS cast wait to perform their scene during a rehearsal

The first scene explains the premise of the show to the audience and is performed by the director (or directors) – since they are stepping into Liu’s shoes as director, they are also tasked with embodying her voice. The last scene provides Liu’s thoughts on the responses she received, reflecting on the common desire she noticed within all of her interviews. While Colgate students have many wonderful resources at their fingertips, they all seem to long for one thing that is just out of their grasp: to connect.

It seems simple and almost silly at first. Students interact every day in class, at parties, on the quad, in the dining hall, and everywhere else they go. But when faced with the multitudes of people who are affected by this show, it doesn’t seem so outrageous anymore. Audience members of every race, sexuality, class, identity… every single person, regardless of their differences, can connect to at least one aspect of the words included in the play. These are truths spoken by real people, and humanity in its rawest form is found throughout each scene.

One of the most important things to remember about TINAPAS is that it’s not perfect. It doesn’t represent every identity on Colgate’s campus (and certainly not the world as a whole), and there are problematic things within some of the identities it does represent. However, it is a step in the right direction. Its purpose is to present its audience with the problems that we often let pass right beneath our noses in order to say hey, listen up. This isn’t cool.

When the last words are spoken and the cast bows out, that is what remains: the memories in the audience’s heads and the way they carry this new awareness with them. Liu began the conversation, the cast and crew have presented it to a new set of listeners, and now the next task belongs to the audience. What they make of it is up to them, and that is the magic of TINAPAS.

Colgate University