A Marriage Between Social Issues and Performance

by MC Lord

arts and life editor


A new class at Millsaps this semester is catching attention and curiosity around campus. Professor Tordella-Williams is teaching Introduction to Performance Art for the first time ever at Millsaps College.

The class consists of four students, ranging in disciplines and grades, who have come together to learn more about performance art. Throughout the semester, each student is required to conduct their own performances. These performances vary in theme and setting; some taking place in a classroom and others around campus—both welcoming the public for viewing. The students are also required to research different performance artists and present that information to the class.

Professor Tordella-Williams has been at Millsaps for two years. She uses performance and sculpture to investigate an array of social issues using different forms of common, everyday materials. Tordella-Williams has created many performance pieces and hopes to continue making more collaborative performance art. When asked about the importance of performance art on campus, Professor Tordella-Williams had an interesting approach, “There is an evident presence of theatre on this campus. This can be confused for performance art and often times leads to performance artists having a lack of on-campus opportunities. It is important to realize the difference between performance art and theatre, and the difference between performance artists and actors. While an audience member sits for a play, they know it is not real. But while someone engages in a performance art piece, there is a distinct sense of reality involved that theatre can’t provide.”

Earlier this semester, the class put on a performance at the Millsaps Mausoleum. The students performed a same-sex wedding ceremony, which included a full wedding party, music, flowers, and a packed audience. While the wedding and performance was brief, it was powerful. After the couple said their vows, the audience was asked if anyone opposed the marriage. A participant of the performance, and student in the class, stood up and said, “I oppose this marriage because of House Bill 1523. I support your love, but your state doesn’t. Why would you want to do that to yourselves? Why now?” This form of performance art was rooted in local, social issues and was a very moving piece to observe.

The students’ in-class performance exercises vary widely and often invite curiosity from the campus at large. One included walking around campus at half the typical walking speed. Another was to walk around campus backwards with a hand mirror as your only guide of direction. Allison Othmani, Millsaps freshman, said, “I felt like everyone was watching me. Someone even took a Snapchat of me. I had the feeling that I always had to explain myself.”

Freshman Natalie Noebel also shared an interesting perspective regarding performance art and empowerment. One of her performances required conforming to a woman’s life during the 1950s. The performance was set in a kitchen, where she was dressed in a traditional 1950s dress and apron. With a crowd of peers surrounding her, Noebel baked a cake in an Easy Bake Oven full of maggots, representing one of the few ways women could passively revolt in the 1950s. “Being able to put myself in this situation was difficult. There is a certain type of empowerment and confidence that comes with performance art that I am thankful for,” Noebel said.

Ninette Hickey, sophomore, spoke positively about her experience in the class. “We really do have fun,” she said. Everyone wants to be here and even if the performance is scary or nerve-wracking, we always learn and have fun.”

This upcoming week, April 11-15, all five students will be performing around campus. Keep an eye out!

You can also look at Dr. Tordella-Williams’ performance profile: http://cargocollective.com/kristentordellawilliams. If you are interested in performance art, contact Professor Tordella-Williams for more information at tordekm@millsaps.edu.


For more information about House Bill 1523, reference Zane Ballard’s Purple and White article about the recent Mississippi legislation.