Each year, as part of first-year orientation, the incoming class watches a play called Perspectives. Written by an upperclass student, the play is a compilation of stories and statements pulled from the class’s college applications.
Bowdoin hired James Jelin ’16 to write Perspectives this summer. Along with five other students, he also acted in the Saturday night performance. Associate Professor of Theater Abigail Killeen directed the play.
Jelin, a computer science and math major, and a theater minor, has helped produce Perspectives each year for the past three years. He said he was first inspired to get involved after seeing the production himself as a first-year student and understanding its potential. “It’s a unique and powerful way of approaching diversity,” he said, one that can ably demonstrate the breadth of experiences and outlooks contained within one college class.
Jelin said he tries to portray the full range of students’ backgrounds, including, but not limited by, their ethnic, racial, or sexual differences. Some stories discuss challenges; others are lighter in character. “If you have 45 minutes of stories of discrimination, poverty, family crises, and death, it hits a point where it stops feeling like anything,” he said. “These stories are incredibly important, but they have to be handled with care and juxtaposed with a fuller, often lighter range of experiences in order to be fully understood.”
A few of the excerpts Jelin used this year discuss students’ passions — about trivia, for instance, or the outdoors — or they explore hardships. One student describes taking care of an ill parent; another talks about coming to term with his blackness.
Using excerpts from the 250 college essays that students allowed him to use, and from 50 additional personal statements that he asked for, Jelin wrote a play that was loosely structured into four sections covering the students’ inspirations, desires, fears, and hopes.
In the years he’s been working on Perspectives, Jelin said he has been impressed by the impact that can come from sharing vulnerabilities. This Saturday, the audience clapped loudly following a funny monologue in which a student fretted about choosing the wrong major, which would lead, she figured, to a terrible job, a lousy life, and a sad and lonely death.
Another story that generated a big audience response was written by a student who described his experience in an incompetent pep band. The student eventually came to accept the band’s inferiority, and instead of being embarrassed by it, played with confidence and joy.
The stories that resonate show both authenticity and vulnerability, according to Jelin. “Everyone here is going through a lot and coming from different places—and no one has things figured out yet,” he said. “That’s okay.”