In 1996, Eve Ensler premiered her episodic play “The Vagina Monologues” in New York. She had interviewed 200 women and composed the monologues with inspiration from stories they told of their experiences. Since then, performances have cropped up internationally, many on college campuses.
“The Vagina Monologues” came to Knox this term. Advocates for Choice hosted the event, which required a 25 cent minimum donation at the door for entrance with all proceeds going to Safe Harbor, and was a non-mandated Title IX reporting space.
AFC Co-President senior Amber Simon attended a performance of the monologues at another college last year and felt compelled to bring them to Knox out of a desire to open up more space for dialogues about the female identity and body on campus. AFC applied for and received rights to the “The Vagina Monologues” for free alongside movements like One Billion Rising and the V-Day campaign, under the condition that the show be performed during February. The process of putting on the show began during Fall Term.
“I announced it in the campus events email, I put it all over the place that we were doing ‘The Vagina Monologues’ and we were holding, not necessarily auditions, but an interest meeting in November,” Simon said. “I didn’t turn anybody away, so everyone that wanted a part in the show got a part in the show.”
The goal was to be as inclusive as possible. According to Simon, AFC contacted social justice groups such as Quest, Common Ground and SASS, as well as contacting cultural houses and cultural organizations like Lo Nuestro and A.B.L.E. Major contributing factors to having a smaller cast than AFC had originally intended surrounded student’s discomfort with performing monologues about such subjects as sexual assault, child abuse and gender identity, but Simon was sympathetic.
“There were definitely more people interested in the beginning then ended up being in the production, but I had expected that,” Simon said.
Simon’s co-president, senior Alanna Toomey, said the process of preparing for the show was personally intense for her.
“I think one of the interesting things for me was discovering where the line of what I was and wasn’t comfortable with was. Because we did have some people who had originally taken on monologues and then weren’t able to continue with the production, Amber and I ended up taking on monologues to fill those spaces,” Toomey said. “So then it was trying to figure out what I could deal with.”
Both co-presidents, along with AFC Secretary junior Celina Pedit, acknowledged the difficulty of tackling the broad spectrum of subject matter in “The Vagina Monologues” with their limited time and cast. Issues such as race and gender were of particular concern. Unwilling to publicly “out” any of their performers’ identities, Simon, Toomey and Pedit worked extensively with the cast on one monologue which tells the story of a trans woman’s journey through bias and violence.
“It is supposed to be performed by five trans women, and there wound up not being any trans women in our cast who volunteered to be in the performance. So we were trying really hard to make sure we weren’t taking those voices away from the people who couldn’t be in the show, but we also wanted to make sure that the perspectives of the monologues were heard, and it was a fine line to walk,” Simon said.
“We tried, for that piece, to find cast members who have engaged with gender in one space or another previously, so it’s not just a group of people who don’t have any idea what’s going on in relation to that,” Toomey said.
Eventually, the three cast members who performed it wrote their own disclaimer statement to be read prior to the monologue, acknowledging the importance of telling diverse stories from diverse perspectives.
The sharing of perspectives, according to Simon and Pedit, is a big part of what makes “The Vagina Monologues” important.
Another important issue was safety for audience members. With a script full of potentially-triggering content and a “call out” asking those who felt comfortable to self-identify as survivors of sexual assault or abuse or relationship violence, AFC decided to collaborate with Title IX counselor Janell McGruder to make “The Vagina Monologues” a non-mandated reporting space.
At the end of the show Simon read out statements, and audience members stood up to demonstrate their identity as a member of the group she’d named. The last call out was for anyone who personally knew a survivor: Nearly everyone in the room stood.
Senior and performer Brandi Pudlo said that the very content which was difficult to speak about was part of what drew her to the project.
“I participated because I saw ‘The Vagina Monologues’ at another school, and seeing women just so willing to talk about their vaginas and be so open about it was really moving to me,” she said. “The ending where we did the call out was really helpful for me in coming to terms with things that had happened to me.”
The sense of celebration also drew junior performer Kristina Mengis.
“I was just really interested in seeing what it was about, and just the appreciation of women that isn’t always given,” she said. “I was excited to be a part of that.”
Simon, Toomey and Pedit considered their event a successful one. More than $100 in change was raised for Safe Harbor, in addition to funds AFC will raise in the coming weeks as they sell vulva-shaped chocolates in Seymour Gallery. They hope to host a talkback of the performance as a platform for discussion and critique of the monologues before the end of the term.