Monologues Speak to Many

CulturePenn

Monologues Speak to Many

vday

“I bet you’re worried.  I was worried.  I was worried about vaginas.  I was worried about what we think about vaginas, and even more worried that we don’t think about them.”

Eve Ensler, the activist and author behind The Vagina Monologues begins the show with a bang (no, not that kind of bang).  The play is comprised of a series of conversation style vignettes that are all linked together by their honest look at what it means to be a woman.

But The Vagina Monologues is more than just a play; it has created a global movement to empower women.  Here on Penn’s campus, the V-Day movement is working hard to spread its message with the upcoming annual production of The Vagina Monologues (February 15th& 16th, 8 pm at Irvine Auditorium).

The WALK sat down with Isabel Friedman C’13 (Producer), Raya Musallam C’13 (Board Member), and Alex Tritsch C’16 (Crew) to get the inside scoop.

The WALK: Describe your involvement in The Vagina Monologues.

Isabel Friedman: I first got involved in the crew my freshman year. Both sophomore and junior year, I was in the cast and also the crew. Now that I’m producing the show, I’m taking on a bigger role.  Everything that is part of the movement — from our weekly Sunday discussion meetings to fundraising events — all relate to women’s experiences with sexuality and empowerment.  For example, we just had our “Moregasm” event on January 30th.  It was a workshop on the anatomy of pleasure, and the female-friendly NYC sex toy shop Babeland gave tips and techniques.  On one hand of the movement, we talk about all the different problems regarding sexual violence that women encounter and on the flip-side, we want to give them the power to reclaim their sexuality.

Raya Musallam: We raise awareness and we fundraise.  The Vagina Monologues is really at the heart of the campaign against all forms of sexual violence against women. We hold weekly meetings that really help to build a supportive community.  We discuss things like what it means to be a woman at Penn and how our experiences connect us with women all over the world.  We also try to focus on bringing in a new aspect to the movement.  We are trying to bring in the male voice at Penn, and the Fraternities have been very positive and receptive.

Alex Tritsch: This is my first time helping with the show and as The Vagina Monologues “virgin” I didn’t previously know much about it.  But now I have a much bigger understanding about the goals of the movement.  The Sunday meetings are great and I feel very free talking openly about anything to anyone.  Each meeting builds off the previous one.  It is so important to work together to end sexual violence.  Even the stigma about the word vagina itself.  It is this body part that nobody want to talk about.  We have to get rid of the taboo!

Isabel Friedman: The vagina can be a barometer for how social powers are in place in a community.  The way women feel about their vaginas, both good and bad experiences, is at the heart of the show.  There are a million different perspectives that are represented in the show.  Unfortunately, a majority of Penn students don’t understand the V-Day movement in its entirety.  But, we are not man-hating feminists yelling about vaginas on Locust Walk.

WALK: Can you explain the V-Day movement?

IF: It is an international movement that raises money and awareness about ending violence against women.  90 percent of the funds raised go towards Women Organized Against Rape (WOAR), which is the only full-service rape crisis center in Philadelphia. The last 10 percent goes towards the International Spotlight campaign to help the one billion women in the world who have been raped or beaten.

RM: The funds come from the show itself and additional fundraising events such as our “Moregasm” event, our downtown event, donations, merchandise, show ticket sales, ads in the program, etc.

vday10

WALK: Now that you’re in this show, will you ever think of Valentine’s Day as V-Day again?

IF: Valentine’s Day is refrained since the show always occurs during that week.  It does help me think about and appreciate the positive forces of love and healthy relationships. It is a day to celebrate that love can be a beautiful thing.  We also need to recognize that plenty of people in world are in unhealthy relationships and aren’t receiving the love that they deserve.  There is an interesting and intentional juxtaposition for V-Day to be the week of Valentines Day.

RM: In order to have a good sexual experience you really need to know yourself physically and emotionally.  You need to be comfortable talking about sex and knowing what you want.  This is a step that people need to take.

WALK: Can you explain the premise of the show? Are the same monologues always performed?

IF: The show completely changes every year.  Each show is a new and exciting experience.  Every year we hear feedback from people who have gone the previous year and when they go a second time they are surprised about how different it is.  The show is a roller coaster: you will laugh, cry, be turned on, cringe, and laugh again.

RM: There is a core certain number of monologues that we perform every year. Additionally, there are two or three option monologues that we can switch up and there is one spotlight monologue that changes based on the spotlight campaign.  Overall, it is a loaded show.  I have had such a different experience watching the show than preforming in it.

WALK: Do you have any previous acting experience?

IF: Prior to joining the show, the last acting experience I had was in middle school!  I’m really not an actress. The show is about the overall message of the monologues and you will find a wide range of acting talents in the cast.

RM: When I auditioned I also had no acting experience. I remember that I went to the last audition slot. I was lucky it worked out!

WALK: Did you have to think twice about being in the show given its subject matter and the title?

IF: No, absolutely not!  I was laughing with past board members that I have the word vagina on my resume.  I wouldn’t want to work in a place that doesn’t accept this or the whole me. Especially since being a part of this is one of my proudest accomplishments.

RM: After you explain the movement, who wouldn’t want to support it?  Sadly, there are a lot of misconceptions.  We want to educate people and bring awareness to these issues. Once you understand, you are OK with it.

vday12

WALK: Have you told you grandmother the name of the show you’re in?

IF: My grandmother comes to the show every year.  She had already emailed me eight times about it.  Really my whole family is very supportive and they all come to the show. There are definitely women in the cast who have to have conversations about the content of the show with their families.  For some people, participating in the cast or crew is a huge step outside their comfort zone.

RM: Some people start working on the show and they don’t feel comfortable saying the word vagina.  By the time they leave, they are comfortably screaming the word.

WALK: How many people are in the cast?

IF: This year there are 45.  The number really varies. 150 people tried out for the show. We also have a large crew.  It feels like everywhere I look, I see people who are in some way a part of the show.  Being a part of The Vagina Monologues is a rewarding commitment.  We have been rehearsing since last semester.

RM:  People can contribute in different ways.

IF: Every year, we are blown away by how excited people are to get involved. We have women from many campus groups and all Greek organizations are represented. Also, on-campus and off-campus fraternities have shown a lot of support for the show.

WALK: Have there ever been problems with people not supporting the show?

RM: There are always a few people who are resistant to it. Problems do sometimes persist. Not all women on campus feel comfortable with our show.

IF: It’s bad when people come to the show drunk and are hecklers.  Some issues with guys seeing the show can be very frustrating.  Luckily, Penn’s IFC (Inter-Fraternity Council) is very welcoming.

WALK:  Do you have a favorite monologue?

IF: I like Wear/Say a lot.  It is list of interjections about what your vagina would say and wear. It’s high-energy fun, and it helps break the ice in the beginning of the show. A single word can be delivered in a million different ways.  It’s a necessary light piece compared to a lot of heaver ones.  There is lots of creative freedom with Wear/Say. One year, it was, “What would your Penn Vagina say,” and mine was something about being over scheduled.

RM: I really like Angry Vagina and The Woman Who Liked to Make Vaginas Happy, which is about a sex worker who works with women.  This monologue includes lots of different moans, and it doesn’t get more in your face than that.  It’s a really funny piece of the show. You can’t just take one monologue and look at it alone.  They mean a lot more when you put them together and they frame each other.

vday14

WALK: Are costumes a part of the show?

IF: The costume is a black outfit with an accent of red. This is the only instruction, and the women can interpret that as they wish.

WALK: What has been the most memorable response you’ve gotten when you introduced someone to the show?

IF: My Mom’s reaction the first time she saw the show.  She is a women’s breast cancer doctor and I attribute it to her that I can talk openly about these topics. My mom didn’t know what to expect from Penn’s production of the show. Afterwards we went out to dinner, and she told me how she was very impressed and moved by the show.  She wasn’t looking forward to it.  She had seen the original Eve Ensler production in NYC and found it very tiresome.  At Penn it is so compelling, there is so much life, and it is all very real.

RM: A guy friend came to the show and he actually cried.  He is not very expressive in general.  After the show, he told me how much it meant to him.  Seeing him make a transformation from not wanting to see it to becoming so emotional, was memorable.

WALK: What happens after the show?

IF: The show is the climax, the orgasm of the V-Day movement.  After the show there is a final meeting, the pillow talk, which is a talk back with the cast. We all share our experiences. In the past, we had a guest appearance from Al Vernacchio who is a sex educator, who has given a TED talk and been featured in The New York Times magazine. He was my teacher at Friends’ Central School in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania. We asked him to come speak to the Penn community.  It was very fresh and moved the focus of the show back to Penn students.

Make sure to check out the Vagina Monologues on Feb 15-16 at 8 p.m. in Irvine Auditorium!

(Tickets can be purchased on Locust Walk outside The Women’s Center, online at website www.upennvday.org, and at the door on the day of the show.) 

-Augusta Greenbaum

Images courtesy of UPENN Vagina Monologues.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *