This is Not an Article About Sex: Activism through Theatre


Elizabeth Shaw, Baker's Dozen Assistant Editor

This is Not a Play About Sex (TINAPAS) is a production written by alumna Poppy Liu ’13 after sifting through hundreds of hours of interviews with Colgate students. Although the script focuses on experiences with sex and intimacy on campus, as the title suggests, it is not just about sex, and it is not just a play either. Each year a core team of students updates the script to continue focusing on relevant issues, and the impact on audiences each year extends far beyond the confines of Brehmer Theater. Recent alumna Gabrielle Durr ’19, who was a member of the core and cast member while concentrating in creative writing and film and media studies, explained the updating process.

“While I was a member of the TINAPAS core, I realized that it is utterly impossible to represent and include each and every person’s story. Once we got started choosing scenes from Liu’s original script, we decided to add scenes and monologues of our own. The list of experiences we wanted to represent got longer and longer until we realized we could never write them all in one lifetime, let alone one semester. In a world where the conversation around sexual violence is silenced and avoided at all cost, TINAPAS opens the door to the future,” she said.

Another former core member, alumna Leiya Salis ’19, articulated just how TINAPAS affects the audience and performers.

“TINAPAS obviously has crucial socio-political messages regarding power, hegemony and justice within the context of sexuality, love and intimacy… but I think its biggest intention is to catalyze dialogue and reflection, in a way that is unapologetically in-your-face and grounded in warmth, openness and vulnerability. TINAPAS asks us to reflect on our lived experiences. Why do we love who we love? Why do we fu*k the way we fu*k? What do we and our communities normalize within the context of sexuality, love and intimacy… and how might these “norms” be interlaced with sexism, homophobia, racism, white supremacy, capitalism, etc.?” she asked, “The thing is, you can’t have change or liberation without healing, and you can’t have healing without vulnerability, without the space to sit down and recognize the complex and heavy realities of our lived experiences.”

Junior Florence Almquist Checa, a TINAPAS cast member, explained that the collaborative aspect of this piece made it stand out from other plays.

“I played an asexual student that was kind of the ‘outcast’ in the play because I didn’t want to talk about sex. I actually thought the initial monologue that I was given didn’t have many nuances in it, and so I interviewed my asexual friend to get a grasp on what it’s really like to be asexual. I was informed that the monologue was originally not written by an asexual person and that was a problem! So we all worked together to give it more complexity and do asexual people justice,” she said. “The collaborative part was really what stuck out to me as being different from the other Colgate plays I had been involved in. There was never a sense that we were bossed around by the TINAPAS core team. We just all wanted to learn from each other — it was a very organic process that I loved.”

When speaking with former cast members, their passion shines through. Junior Larsen Klein has been involved with TINAPAS since her first year. In addition to performing in TINAPAS, she is the co-SAPAS (Sexual Assault Prevention and Support) Chair of Kappa Kappa Gamma, a member of The Medusa Movement and a Bystander Facilitator at Shaw Wellness Institute.

“TINAPAS is unlike any other play I’ve been involved with. TINAPAS brings together the lived experiences and stories of Colgate students’ relationships to sex, sexuality, gender identity, love and intimacy and makes it more accessible and personable to the Colgate community. It gives a platform to voices that are normally silenced on campus and helps destigmatize conversations about the hook-up culture here. TINAPAS also personalizes the experience of sexual violence by amplifying the voices of survivors. The monologues and scenes that deal with sexual violence, I hope, awaken the broader Colgate community to what it means to be a survivor on this campus, and how it affects really every aspect of life,” she said.

Although the sketches come from specific interviews, actors and audiences have found a lot to relate to. Recent alumnus Trey Spadone ’20 explained that through focusing on moments of profound vulnerability, TINAPAS is able to create true connection and understanding among the audience.

“TINAPAS shows you that it’s okay to feel this way. Your feelings and perceptions are valid, and you are not alone. I think one of the biggest messages is that all of us are individuals, and we’re all products of our individual experiences. We’re also thrown into this seemingly alternate reality, a very small bubble, and we have to try to navigate common situations, even though all of our backgrounds are so different,” he said.

Durr echoed this sentiment when describing the personal impact the play had on her.

“When I was a first-year, coming from a small town and exclusively Catholic education, I had a lot to learn about positive sexuality and everything under that umbrella. Seeing TINAPAS opened my eyes to body positivity, sexual violence, gender nonconformance and countless other topics. This is the moment I knew TINAPAS was absolutely invaluable to Colgate’s campus. It is easy to think of a campus through your own lens of experience. TINAPAS reminded me that everyone has unique obstacles in their pursuits of love, romance or even casual hookups. It also taught me that I am not alone. My experiences with sexual harassment and violence were not isolated — they weren’t even rare. This terrible truth is, for me, the reason I wish each and every college student could see a play like TINAPAS,” she said.

Klein agreed saying, “TINAPAS has personally made me more empathetic; that’s what I love about theater. I have been able to reconsider my relationships with sex and intimacy, hookup culture and conformity on Colgate’s campus. And I hope it does the same for other folks — we need to hear and understand the various experiences here at Colgate. Just because one story is the ‘loudest’ on campus doesn’t mean it’s the only one.”

TINAPAS works towards changing campus culture subversively. Although there have been critiques about the script in the past, and  people in the audience are likely already versed in creating a culture of consent, the play persists as a beacon of hope for its participants.

Spadone explained, “TINAPAS seeks to change the culture by disrupting notions of a homogenous Colgate social experience. The hook-up culture has such a strong presence on campus and often really influences how people see themselves in relation to others and how they navigate sex, dating, love and relationships.”

Salis explained that TINAPAS does not exist in a vacuum, but in a network of organizations and individuals working to change the culture of sex and intimacy on campus.

“There are other efforts on campus, such as Yes Means Yes, that support the revelations and conversations born through TINAPAS… [the play is] a catalyst. It’s only the tip of the iceberg. The ‘sparks’ need to be kindled into something far bigger for it to have long-standing change. And that takes constant learning and unlearning, and speaking up against injustices. TINAPAS isn’t the answer to the issues on Colgate’s campus, but it does present us with a lot of important questions about how we can heal as a community.”

Colgate students left campus before the annual production of TINAPAS could be performed last spring. Almquist Checa expressed her disappointment.

“I wish we got to run through the whole show… However, simply reading the script and how much depth it was able to showcase was so exciting. It helped me understand that a lot of people struggle with intimacy and sex on campus, and it definitely made me feel less alone. But it also frustrated me because we all feel so isolated at times and I wish we could find a way to all come together. Even putting on a show often does not do enough because the people that go to it are queer themselves, which is great but we also need non-queer folks to show up, for others, and for the Colgate community.”

Although there are currently no plans for a virtual TINAPAS production, the time away from parties and hookups this semester provides a great opportunity for students to reflect on their experiences with the culture around sex on campus and how to intentionally improve it for future students. 

Salis concluded, “Thinking and talking about intimacy has never been more important. With the pandemic still devastating our communities, I hope that TINAPAS finds new iterations of itself to brighten up the lives of Colgate students. I am yet to encounter anything quite like TINAPAS… it’s Colgate’s sweet, sassy and radical gem.”