‘Viva La Vulva!’: Exploring women’s issues, experiences in Whitman production of ‘Vagina Monologues’
Embracing the challenge of performing one of the most controversial and dynamic performance ensembles of recent times, Whitman clubs Voices for Planned Parenthood (VOX) and Feminists Advocating Change and Empowerment (FACE) have collaborated to portray the powerful stories from the award-winning series “The Vagina Monologues,” a collection of works based on the testimonials of women concerning sexual fears, frustrations and ultimately freedoms.
The project of “The Vagina Monologues” was to expose the intricacies of the women’s body and mind. Eve Ensler, the playwright of “The Vagina Monologues”, selected stories from over 200 women which revolve around the feminine sexual experience. The directors must take a deep interest in these monologues in order to portray them.
“I’m the vice president of FACE,” said sophomore and director Gabby Brandt. “So I’m really involved in talking about and getting the dialogue out about feminist issues.”
“These different perspectives help me learn more about myself and how I work,” said senior and director Mark Kennedy, the only male director involved with the play. “So while I can’t directly connect to being female, the physical reality and everyday experience of being a woman, I deeply care about themes like self-love and self-respect.”
Student directors include Brandt, Kennedy, junior Anastasia “Stazh” Zamkinos, sophomore Patricia MacMorris Xi and first-year Abbey McGrath. Brandt revealed how the collaborators worked together.
“Each director works with their individual segments with their actors, and at the end we come together. We have a few ensemble pieces where we work together on a regular basis with,” Brandt said.
While many celebrate the series, controversy surrounds it as well. Aside from making the more conservative audiences uncomfortable, some feminist groups also take offence at stories such as “The Little Coochie Snorcher That Could.” The monologue portrays a scene in which a thirteen-year-old girl has a “positive sexual encounter” with an older woman. Some viewers, therefore, believe that this particular story is promoting statutory rape.
The directors struggle with this controversy, Brandt said.
“People don’t talk about sex and sexuality, or repression — it can spark different emotions in different people. What these pieces are supposed to portray is how women find and learn something through their sexual experiences,” said Brandt.
Ultimately, Brandt and the other directors hope that this play will send a strong message, particularly to women about their own sexuality.
“It can make women feel really empowered and start the discourse on women’s issues,” Brandt said.
“It’s reminding every woman who sees it that she’s not alone, and she’s not limited,” said McKenna Milici, a sophomore involved with the play.
The directors also give men a chance to appreciate the messages as well.
“Seeing the other side of the issue can help men reflect back upon how they feel about their own sexuality, their own body,” said Kennedy. “With this culture, men are supposed to be sexual, but not to really think about it.”
“These aren’t just for women. This is about acknowledging sex and gender issues,” said Brandt.
“For me, these monologues are about power, hope and celebration. We don’t want people to walk away thinking we’re trying to push a ‘women are better than men agenda,’ because that’s not our intention,” said Milici.
One of the issues many feel curious about is the absence of a male role in the monologues.
“Part of it has to do with the rights laws involved,” said Brandt. “It’s also because they are from women and about women. To have a man tell a story about the vagina would not be convincing because men don’t have vaginas, obviously.”
Many students involved or know about the upcoming performance question why Kennedy was allowed to direct. However, Brandt sees Kennedy’s involvement as a positive one.
“I think it’s great,” said Brandt. “He’s a great director with a lot of theater experience and is concerned about the issues — he’s able to do it.”
Kennedy comments on the controversy surrounding his involvement, as he is the only male directing a very feminine play.
“I act as more of a constructive audience,” said Kennedy. “I can’t tell women how to feel about the issues, but [tell them] what messages I get out of their portrayal. In theater history, most stories are about men and men’s issues. As a director, I’ve been focusing on works that let women act and portray their stories.”
Colleges across the country have performed excerpts from “The Vagina Monologues” with various results. However, student directors at Whitman feel that the audience will give positive feedback about the viewing experience.
“I think Whitman students for the most part are culled to seeing the other side,” said Kennedy. “I imagine it will be well-taken.”
“I think we’re going to sell out,” said Brandt. “I think most people at Whitman have heard of them or seen them, or are curious about them. I encourage everyone to come.”
The performances will take place in Olin Hall, Room 130, on February 27, 28 and March 1 at 7 p.m. Tickets will be $5.The money made through ticket sales will go to both Planned Parenthood and the YWCA.