Bryce Monroe '15 rehearses his senior thesis performance The Lower Frequecies.
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“This is me telling a story based on my experience as a young black man in America,” says Bryce Monroe '15 of his senior thesis performance in theater and dance. Titled The Lower Frequencies and inspired by Ralph Ellison’s 1952 novel Invisible Man, Monroe's one-man play aims to shed light on the realities of racism in America through a series of powerful, witty and tragic vignettes.
Monroe, a psychology and theater and dance double major, began creating The Lower Frequencies in Professor Wendy Woodson's fall 2014 course "Performance Studio," in which students incorporate original choreography, text, music, sound and/or video into performance pieces of their own creation. Monroe says he found inspiration for his piece through a close reading of the "battle royal" scene in Invisible Man, in which "young black men are placed in a boxing ring, blindfolded with one arm restrained behind their backs and forced to fight each other for the enjoyment of a white audience." He likens it to the currently popular series The Hunger Games, but "with more overt racism."
With Ellison's text in mind, Monroe choreographed and scripted his own "battle royal" scene and performed it alongside his classmates at a showcase event in December 2014. "At the time I was creating this particular scene," Monroe says, "the most prevalent racial issue in America was police brutality against young and unarmed black men. ... Professor Woodson worked very closely with me to figure out a means to presenting this reality in my performance." In the showcase event description, Monroe explained the piece as "a solo monologue and dance commentary on the social injustices caused by enduring institutional systems that have muted the voices, camouflaged the bodies and denigrated the lives of the black community in the United States."
"I didn't know what response I would receive," Monroe says when asked about that performance. "I didn't know how it would make [the audience] feel. The source material is pretty potent and pretty jarring." But, he says, he wasn't necessarily performing for the sake of the audience: "I realized I have to perform this for myself. As a black man who is also an artist, I realized that I had a platform from which I could present a particularly neglected experience to an audience... and they could no longer ignore it."
Monroe continued working with Woodson after the class, adding choreography and text and extending the one scene into a series of scenes that highlight "the harsh realities of living in America as a black man." The result is The Lower Frequencies, which Monroe performed in Amherst's Holden Theater April 2–4.
He's also applied for an Amherst College Fellowship for continued/graduate study in theater and dance, which would fund the development of The Lower Frequencies into a professional production. Says Monroe, "I would love to bring the professional production back to Amherst College to continue the institution's dedication to diversity, social and racial harmony, tolerance, and the breaking of stereotypes and socioeconomic barriers."