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Q & A with Chara Riegel, SSW

MSW Shows Faces of Texas


Chara Riegel, a student in the School for Social Work's master's program, will perform her one-woman show Cowgirl Expatriate: A Texas Memoir Thursday, June 12, at 7 p.m., in the Campus Center Carroll Room. Admission is free (donations are welcome).

This provocative musical explores what it means to be Texan through a bold look at race, gender, religion, violence, and the current U.S. president, based on interviews with Texans. A dialogue with Riegel will follow the performance.

Reigel responded to questions about her inspiration for writing and performing Cowgirl Expatriate.

The Gate: How does this performance tie in with your requirements in the School for Social Work?

Riegel: In the first year of the Smith School for Social Work program, we're required to create some kind of community practice project. Because I'm a performer, I decided I wanted to create a one-woman show to explore diversity issues and I wanted to base the piece on my own experiences growing up in Texas. For the autobiographical part of it, I started composing songs and for the characters in the piece, I interviewed Texans about issues like race, gender, religion, violence and the president, and transcribed their words into monologues.

Gate: What inspired you to write Cowgirl Expatriate?

Riegel: I was inspired to create the piece in part because of the response New Englanders have when I say I'm from Texas. Generally, they look at me in horror. And frankly, I sympathize. I was born and raised in Texas, but for the past seven years I've been living in San Francisco and New York City and I've been in pretty strong denial of my Texas roots. And I guess, recently I've been wanting to come to terms with this part of my identity and reclaim being Texan in my own way.

Gate: How are your studies in social work reflected in the piece?

Riegel: When I started classes here this past summer, one of the teachers explained the School for Social Work's anti-racism commitment and in reference to white people thinking about this issue, he said, “It's a privilege to not have to think about race, and this is a privilege that we need to give up.” I'm still kind of amazed by the impact these words had on me. For the first time, I felt invited to really get to know how I've benefited from privilege in my life and I started wanting to put the pieces together about the kind of intolerance that was operating in my childhood in Texas.

Gate: How does the show's setting in Texas affect its issues of diversity? Why is Texas an important setting for the piece?

Reigel: Especially in today's political climate, it's easy to demonize Texas and there are plenty of Texans who are intolerant. But there are also people standing up in Texas, fighting for equal rights and tolerance, trying to do good in the world. And while it's easy to blame and distance ourselves, a shift can only happen when we can get to know these dark places in ourselves and in our country.

Gate: What do you hope audience members will come away with after attending Cowgirl Expatriate?

Riegel: I would like audience members to leave inspired to keep uncovering the subtle layers of bias that we all have and to keep talking about these difficult issues in an intimate and honest way.

Gate: What do you plan to do professionally after graduating from the SSW? Will
it involve performance?

Riegel: After graduating from the SSW, I plan to work as a psychotherapist, but my
life will definitely involve performing. And now that I'm discovering the link between performance and activism, I'm even more excited to explore my potential impact as an artist.


6/11/07   Compiled by Eric Sean Weld
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