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St. Mary’s College of Maryland professor Leonard Cruz had a vision in his head about a play he wanted to conceive, and that play has taken the form of “Encounters: A Performance of Spoken Word, Dance, and Music,” which runs through March 2.

The play, which consists of true stories from several of the cast members, innovative costumes and modern dance, is an emotional journey into what people are and what they stand for.

“I really wanted a collaborative process with the students,” said Cruz, who kick-started the play’s creative process during a course he taught in September. “I tried to broaden it ... but the students were constantly writing more about their identity, their struggle as college students, so that was the direction the piece was going in. And I, as a director, have to be flexible in just taking it for what that was. I was hoping to broaden it to global social justice.”

Cast members found their inspiration for their monologues from personal experiences, passages from books or song lyrics.

“It is basically a play about all of us, all of our different stories we’ve experienced through life or college,” said senior Scott McInerny, an economics major with a minor in dance. “Some are more uplifting than others. Some are pretty dark. There was no rhyme or reason to the stories we picked. It was just a story of who you are, why you are the way you are and what has shaped that.”

“I think what’s nice and what’s important is that you hear a wide variety of these students’ stories, and they are St. Mary’s College students, and so it’s very much about this generation,” Cruz said. “Our generation is talking about politics and war, and these kids really want to talk about themselves, their identity, their struggle right now with who they are. It’s about them.”

The play begins with an emotional journey of single words from the U.S. presidents and ending with, “Can’t we all have peace?”

Fernando Maldonado speaks about his family’s values, while Ginny Huber recounts how her diminutive stature oftentimes gives people the wrong impression.

“I’m short,” she says, “and people think I’m bitchy, but I just want to be heard.”

In her monologue, Carrie Meeder tells how people have mannerisms but that those are often taken the wrong way.

“The story was me kind of talking about my everyday life and people in general who have subtle little things we do that make you feel comfortable,” said Meeder, who is majoring in sociology and minoring in music. “We preoccupy our minds with these mannerisms that aren’t addressing real problems or your real anxiety or your true anger and sadness.”

Kreea Greeves speaks of growing up in a military home and “seeing friends come and go. The hardest part is when they ask me where I’m from. Hmm. I don’t really know.”

Katie Niccolini says “dancing helps me express myself.” Erica Burns speaks about sexuality, and Bert Frauman intones that he’s “a vegan with muscles, and my name’s a verb for whatever I do.”

Celia Frances Rector says she wants to be an actress because “I know it’s the only choice for me.” She also wants to make her mark on the world and refers to a tattoo that reads, “But a walking shadow” that runs down her side.

“It’s all about the parallel between acting and philosophy on life, which is that so many people spend their whole life worrying about being remembered once they’re gone, and they forget to live them,” Rector said of the inking she received two years ago. “You’re on Earth. You’re basically a shadow, and then you’re gone, and that’s it. Live your life. Don’t worry about what happens after you die because why does that matter? So many shows you’re saying lines that were written for you and you’re playing a part, but in this show you’re playing yourself. I’m playing me. I’m playing Celia Frances [Rector], wannabe actress.”

Hannah Dickmyer wants to be a princess — not for the castles and handsome prince — but because they are “loving, kind and good.” Windy Vorwick tells of her feelings of having social anxiety.

“I have a lot of anxiety issues, but when I’m onstage it all goes away because I’m a character,” said Vorvick, who is majoring in theater with a double minor in English and dance. “[The stage] is really the only place I feel at home.”

The play also includes plenty of singing. Vorwick does an acoustic version of Coldplay’s “Clocks,” and Meeder does Adele’s “Hometown Glory” and Daft Punk’s “Digital Love.”

“I guess because it’s one of my favorite songs because in this age group there’s a lot of hyper-sexuality, and that’s not really been my comfort level,” Meeder said of the latter tune. “The song talks about how we’re dancing, and it’s fun, and it’s not anything weird or sexual. You can just revel and be glad for the fact that two people can be vulnerable in a fun, positive environment.”

Vorwick and Rector, who also are best friends, team up in one of the most powerful moments of the play about sexism.

“All of the stories we told are things that have happened to us personally, and we have the same views on the subject,” Vorwick said. “In the beginning, we’re experiencing things together, and then when we pull apart we’re synchronized.”

The piece is so emotionally moving that Cruz selected the duo to perform the movement at the American College Dance Festival, which will be held March 8 through 11 at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va.

The costumes were designed by Jess Lustig, while Rector and other members of the cast made a number of them.

“All of our costumes were made to represent [who we are],” said Rector, whose sheer, flowy costume was made to resemble candles and smoke, while Vorwick’s billowy dress was designed to imitate a tempest. “All of them have to do with who we are and how we perceive ourselves.”

Cruz said the collaborative effort was taxing at times.

“I’ll be honest. It wasn’t easy because I have to make that decision of what fits in and what doesn’t,” he said as he sat outside the theater following a dress rehearsal. “So in that sense of a way it was very difficult for them because I would say, ‘OK, this won’t be in. This will be in. This won’t be in.’ I needed to keep [the] integrity and balance and flow of the piece so no one stood out. It was very hard.”

mreid@somdnews.com

If you go

St. Mary’s College of Maryland will perform “Encounters: A Performance of Spoken Word, Dance, and Music” 8 p.m. Feb. 28 and March 1 and 2 p.m. March 2 at 18952 E. Fisher Road, St. Mary’s City.

Tickets are $6 or $4 for students, staff and seniors.

Call 240-895-4243, ext. 4243, or email boxoffice@smcm.edu.