Hamline students process 2020’s civil unre

What can you do in a year like this? The Hamline Theater department decided to have a conversation. “2020: What We Saw, What We Heard” was an original Hamline piece displaying a kaleidoscope of viewpoints.


Photo courtesy of Hamline Theatre
Hamline University’s department of theatre and dance presents “2020: What We Saw. What We Said,” directed by prominent local actress Austene Van. The virtual performance premiered on Feb. 19. presents “2020: What We Saw. What We Said,” directed by prominent local actress Austene Van. The virtual performance premiered on Feb. 19.presents “2020: What We Saw. What We Said,” directed by prominent local actress Austene Van. The virtual performance premiered on Feb. 19.

Sarah Sawyer, A&E Reporter

2020 was a year of division throughout the country. Dynamics that have been stewing since the foundation of the nation came to the surface in the midst of a pandemic. After the murder of George Floyd, there were massive Black Lives Matter protests during the summer of 2020. Months later, in 2021, there was an insurrection at the U.S. Capitol by protestors. Some say that there has not been such a restless divide in this country since the Civil War.

Hamline’s Theater department, directed by Austene Van, responded to these events with a series of monologues. Each member of the ensemble wrote a piece describing their own thoughts and feelings regarding the events. More challenging, they had to write another piece from a perspective that was not their own. Everyone performed a piece that they had not written. This process created a truly unique performance.

Sophomore Emily Walser-Kuntz, a member of the cast, described how one of her roles was to play a Trump supporter. She called it the most challenging acting role in her career, and that the things she said in her performance were things she normally mocked.

Walser-Kuntz attributed consistent practice to her success in this role. She emphasized the importance of having the conservative perspective represented in a piece like this despite her strong personal disagreements with it.

“I’m really thankful for this opportunity. I want to keep creating. Having my writing in a published sense was frightening, but exciting,” Walser-Kuntz said.

The diversity of perspectives was truly the strength of this performance. Floyd’s daughter, a right-wing news anchor, a Target cashier, activists, internet fights, suburban moms, business owners, politicians, family dinners and even pirates were included in this performance. Each monologue provoked a new emotion, a new idea and a new motivation. 

After the performance, which was held via Zoom, audience members were able to ask the cast questions: a “Talk Back.” This intimate space allowed viewers to further explore the process behind each monologue. The cast was open and willing to share. Members of the cast revealed some of their personal experiences not only of writing these pieces but also of their personal involvement and interactions during the summer protests.

“We’re all in our own little pods. We read things, watch things, but rarely talk about things,” cast member and junior Bridget Benson said in reference to the “good discomfort” the performance brought.

The director and renowned member of the theater world, Van, spoke about the importance of this dialogue. 

“We get our information through entertainment,” Van said.


Aidan StromdahlFrom retail workers navigating a pandemic to news anchors reporting on our nation’s recent tragedies, students portrayed a variety of voices that were heard throughout the year of 2020. From left to right: Oracle senior reporter and sophomore Anika Besst, sophomore Essence Boe, junior Donald Birttnen, first year Emmanuel Glass and junior Jacob ‘Coby’ Aloi.

Sophomore and stage manager Ajah Williams discussed how all the actors filmed themselves. She points to Van as a great facilitator: someone who can hold all ideas all the time and leads with patience. Williams spoke about how she hopes that people both from inside and outside the Hamline community will view the performance as it is meant to be a community conversation starter. 

“2020: What We Saw, What We Said” will be available in the Hamline archives along with the theatre’s other performances.