Written by Zack Silvas. Media by Ashley Chaney.
From hearing students rehearse songs to shows being played, The Blackroom is always busy. With something always going on at the Blackroom, I had to see a performance for myself. Last week, I had the pleasure of seeing Mandy Pennington’s honors thesis performance “Oh, to Feel Nothing.” Pennington performed songs and poetry about human emotions that were inspired by Sara Bareilles songs and Anne Sexton poems. Throughout the performance, you could feel the emotion that Pennington was projecting, and with the lights setting the mood, it created quite the experience. I have not attended that many performances at Greenville, but I can say that this one has to be the best ones I have seen so far. So to get some background on Pennington’s performance, I got a chance to ask her a few questions about her show.
When asked why she wanted to do songs and poems for her honors thesis, Pennington said: “I wanted to do a creative project because my three majors are commercial music, audio engineering, and English. I thought it would be cool to be able to integrate all three of those majors into one final project. Through this song and poetry cycle, I found that way: I wrote poetry, I wrote songs, and I recorded the whole thing in the studios. I was also very interested in studying poetry and songwriting for my thesis project but wanted to also make a product as a result of that research. So the research wasn’t just for the sake of research.” With the Blackroom being bland, Pennington had hung up hangers with clothes and left others empty. Her reason for this was that she wanted to create intimacy with the audience.
Imagine that you walk into someone’s closet—someone that you barely know. You’re going to feel a little up-close-and-personal with that person, aren’t you? You may even feel intrusive. You’ll see the things they wear every day and the things they save for special occasions. I wanted to give the audience the feeling that they were in my space, and that things were going to get personal, and down-to-earth. The dresses on the stage each represented one of the 21 emotions I presented. There were 19 on stage right, and 1 on stage left—this one representing both Joy and Revelation (the first and last pieces of the cycle). As I finished each poem or song about an emotion, the piece of clothing that represented it was removed to represent the confrontation of and the working through of the feeling I’d just presented.”
Pennington credits the whole idea of having the clothes on hanger around the black room to her thesis committee chair, Courtney Bailey Parker. Pennington said that this idea had “brought the whole thing to life.” She also had a chair and bookshelf on stage to give the feeling of being at home and to give a sense of being comfortable. Another way Pennington was able to have the audience follow along and feel more engaged was with a chalkboard that was placed toward the back of the stage. Stagehands would come up write the current emotion that Pennington was singing or reciting poetry about. The reason for her performing about human emotions was because she wanted to find a topic where she could communicate her journey of the ups and downs and have her college/life experience be brought to life in a way that was both “universal and relatable.” Pennington’s desire to share her journey with the crowd ultimately led to her decision that all the songs she performed would be ones she wrote.
In the beginning, Pennington felt like it was a struggle to write songs for certain feelings. “I always write what I feel, and have rarely been forced to write on a certain topic, so when the time would come to write I’d sit down and think, ‘Ok, longing. What does longing feel like?’ And a lot of the time I’d get stuck for quite a while.” She felt, however, like her poems were the easiest to do. “The songs were a lot harder than the poems. My poems flow out of me in an almost stream-of-consciousness way, but the songs take more purposeful execution.” During Pennington’s performance, her words flowed very well and she appeared very confident. But Pennington was feeling a different way. She was feeling very nervous because of never doing anything like this before but ultimately felt good after her performance due to the audience. “The response I got from the audience afterward was so incredible. It was like a community wrapped me in their arms and said ‘me too. I feel that way too.’ It was unlike any other show I’ve ever done; I felt understood and I felt like I understood the people who spoke with me afterward. Some people told me that they cried, which significantly moved me. There was this outpouring of love and support, and it was reciprocal; for the first time, the comments I received weren’t ‘good job,’ but ‘thank you.’ It was a very, very special night for me and I’m so thankful.”
Being able to attend Mandy’s performance was very eye-opening and made me realize that we have a lot of talented people at GU. So if you ever hear about a show in the Backroom, you should definitely attend and the transformation that comes with!