‘The Vagina Monologues’ challenges social norms

| Senior Scene Editor

The cast of “The Vagina Monologues” performs on Thursday night in Graham Chapel.

The cast of “The Vagina Monologues” performs on Thursday night in Graham Chapel.

“The Penis Game,” for many of us in our junior high years, seemed like the pinnacle of social impropriety—when you and your friends would test one another’s nerves by shouting “penis!” in public, as loud as you could. The cast of this year’s “The Vagina Monologues” would like to challenge you to play “The Vagina Game” instead.

The show opened its three day engagement at Graham Chapel on Thursday night.

“My goal for the entire cast was that each member would feel comfortable saying the word ‘vagina’ in normal conversation. Or scream it, for that matter,” said junior Sarah Wagener, the show’s director.

By presenting dramatic, emotional, humorous and honest accounts of real women across the globe, the actors in the show hope to encourage audience members to have more open conversations about female sexuality and to feel secure enough in their own sexualities to speak about sex and vaginas in an honest, even celebratory way.

“If one girl in the audience walks away from the show able to say ‘vagina’ the way I can now, that would be so rewarding,” said sophomore Sarah Elster, who performs a monologue about a woman who comes to terms with her sexuality through an intimate relationship.

“The Vagina Monologues” originated as an off-Broadway episodic play in 1996. Eve Ensler, an American playwright and activist, created the play after interviewing hundreds of women of all different backgrounds about their sex lives and their relationships with their vaginas. She turned these interviews into a series of monologues that grew into the internationally performed “The Vagina Monologues,” which now benefits V-Day, an organization dedicated to ending violence against women.

Though it has gained popularity on college campuses, “The Vagina Monologues” is not just a show for undergraduate performers; many noteworthy and Oscar-winning actresses have performed the monologues, including Cate Blanchett, Whoopi Goldberg, Marisa Tomei and even Oprah Winfrey.

Though she recognizes that the show may make some audience members feel uncomfortable, Waegner said, “that’s the powerful thing about art and theater—the ability to provoke and make people question and become more comfortable with something they might not understand completely.”

“Guys talk about their penises all the time like it’s nothing. It would be great if women could have those same kinds of open conversations,” said senior Cristina Bonner, who is performing in this weekend’s shows.

With Waegner’s help, the actors have been able to emotionally connect with the material of their monologues.

“It can be difficult because these things that I’m talking about didn’t happen to me—this is someone else’s story,” Elster said. “When I first read it, I really didn’t understand the whole range of emotions within it. But Sarah [Wagener] helped me discover this inner hatred my character had for her vagina—so I had to learn to channel that, and it was really sad and difficult sometimes.”

The monologues cover a wide range of topics, including stories of rape and violence, understanding vaginas, comedic anecdotes, sex trafficking, and giving birth. Wagener explained that one account is even from the perspective of a six-year-old girl.

After an application and interview process, Wagener was selected to direct the show in late October 2010. She cast the show in early November, and the group had its first rehearsal before winter break. “At first, I only met with the performers on an individual basis to work through their monologues,” Wagener said. “When the group finally came together and all the cast members saw and heard everyone else’s work, it was such a rewarding experience. I knew we were working on something special.”

Though directing the show added to her already busy schedule, Wagener couldn’t be happier to have been such an integral part of the show.

“I feel like I’m helping to contribute to an international vision of making the world a happier, more positive place for men and women to interact. It lets me know that the countless hours I put in were really worthwhile, ” she said.

Many of the actors also feel that they have benefited from participating in the performance. Bonner, whose monologue is about the struggles of a transgendered individual, said, “I’m comfortable with my femininity, but working through issues that someone else deals with in their life every day has been really intense and really enlightening. I feel like I’ve gained an added level of comfort with these issues.”

Elster agreed.

“I used to shudder at the word ‘vagina’ and would never say it in person. But now I can scream it—and other inappropriate words,” she said.

“It’s not about surviving traumatic things,” Wagener said. “It’s just about living. I think this show does leaps and bounds to help create a better world for all of us.”

“The Vagina Monologues” continues its run at Graham with performances Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m.

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