By ESTER SALGUERO
April 17 marked the day University of Mary Washington student Grace Mann was murdered by roommate Steven Vander Briel in an off-campus house. It was a tragic month for all members of the university. UMW students, faculty and friends uphold Mann as an inspiration, someone with a spirit of joy and an admirable friend who was active in supporting preventative measures toward sexual assault.
In memory of Mann, Chris Kilmartin, part-time solo performer and professor of psychological sciences, helped raise $2,639, not including online donations, for the Rappahannock Council Against Sexual Assault, RCASA, in memory of Grace Mann on Saturday, Sept. 12 at Dodd Auditorium through his performance of “Crimes Against Nature.” Mann’s parents matched the donations, doubling the amount given when doors opened.
Mann was an executive board member of Feminists United on Campus, a member of the UMW task force for sexual assault prevention and a volunteer for RCASA. In memory of Mann, UMW and the members of Feminist United will continue to be active in RCASA to carry on the love that Mann displayed through her volunteer work there.
As a graduate student, Kilmartin began his part-time acting career as a standup comedian, winning a few contests and getting some extra cash until he became a part of the UMW faculty. Kilmartin won VCU’s funniest person on campus contest and Richmond’s funniest amateur comedian. As a part of the VCU contest awards, Kilmartin also got to be in the opening act for a Budweiser Comedy Tour.
“Crimes Against Nature,” an autobiographical solo act, humorously recounted the story of Kilmartin growing up as a male in American society by explaining the social pressures young men face while growing up in a gendered society. He debuted the show in March 1998.
Alyssa Zanzucchi, a sophomore majoring in Environmental Science, thought the play was entertaining, though she herself could not relate to the subject matter. “[It was] not very relatable for me but insightful for college aged men and also entertaining to watch,” Zanzucchi said.
Laughter filled the auditorium as Kilmartin threw in some improvisations, singling out Cedric Rucker, Dean of Student Affairs when describing the masculinity portrayed in football teams.
Members of Feminist United, including its president Julia Michaels, sat in the second row to watch the play in Mann’s memory.
Kilmartin was influenced to develop this solo act after watching another solo performance artist, Holly Hughes, who was invited to the performance by Gregg Stull, the Chair of the Department of Theatre. He defined her show as a more thoughtful and dynamic entertainment than standup comedy, which spiked his interest in trying to combine his psychological studies of masculinity into a lecture that, according to Kilmartin, would also be a visual performance.
Gregg Stull helped Kilmartin work on the project by receiving a grant from the Funds for Excellence in order to gain inspiration and knowledge on how to set up the screen play. The very first play Kilmartin preformed in on campus was the musical “Into the Woods” in 1995.
From then on, Kilmartin knew he wanted theatre to be something he would be a part of in conjunction with his role as a psychology professor. The first year “Crimes Against Nature” was released, Kilmartin was invited to 70 different campuses to share his solo performance.
One reason Kilmartin wanted to share his experience in growing up as a male in American society through performing the play was to express how social pressures for men can be overwhelmingly contradictory when family, friends and even girls stress the need to be ‘masculine.’
When asked about gender roles in American society Kilmartin responded by explaining how damaging these ideas can be as men and women grow up trying to understand themselves. He touched on the influences media has in manipulating both sexes into believing that they are inadequate in a gendered sense.
Kilmartin also expounded on how industries are made to sell “a hyper masculine version of who they are supposed to be” and how supporting gender roles makes sexism a normal or accepted form of discrimination.
With these habits remaining in our society, men end up “engaging in a conspiracy of silence” while other men degrade women. However, it is not only men that make this possible. Women are also compliant in allowing masculinity to be an identity for men to hold onto.
“Crimes Against Nature” is a quirky autobiographical performance that sheds light on the damaging outcomes from supporting gender roles in our society and creating these social pressure for both sexes.
As Kilmartin stated, “it is really difficult to resist a pressure you can’t name and we really aren’t doing a great job at naming it for men.”