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What started as a one-woman play in a quiet cafe in Greenwich Village, Manhattan, is now a global phenomenon, performed in over 140 countries, in over 45 languages and by huge celebrities such as Whoopi Goldberg, Jennifer Hudson and Kate Winslet. The Vagina Monologues was written in 1996 by Eve Ensler, an American playwright, activist and feminist. After surviving a sexually abusive childhood and a series of abusive relationships in her young adulthood, Ensler was left feeling defiant and determined to make a change to women’s lives.
Ensler then conducted a series of interviews with over 200 diverse women to understand their views on sex, relationships, and violence against women. These interviews were then translated into monologues, then an episodic play with various monologues and subsequently were performed by Ensler throughout the late 1990s in New York City. She states that the play’s intention was to destigmatise the conversations surrounding women’s sexuality, vaginas and violence against women. The play is now performed around the world to raise awareness of issues affecting women such as rape, domestic violence and female genital mutilation.
For the 14th year in a row, the Tony Award-winning play will once again return to the stages of Lancaster University. This year, the production is directed by Bethan Archer, a second-year Masters student in Gender and Women’s Studies & English Literature, Jasmin Smith, a third-year Law student, and Sophie Pope, a second-year Geography student. This week I have interviewed them about why the production is still so important 20 years on from when it was first performed.
First of all, what made you want to become the directors of “Vagina MonoLancs”?
Bethan: So much! I was in it last year and loved everything it stood for so I wanted to get involved more
Sophie: I decided to apply for director and got it. Even though I didn’t want to perform, I loved how uplifting and empowering it was. You become more aware of things but being in the cast with others makes these issues more bearable
Jasmin: I’m really passionate about helping domestic violence victims, helping others and ensuring a safe space. This is why I wanted to be the fundraising director
Why do you think The Vagina Monologues is so controversial?
Jasmin: because it’s about women, there is also a lack of understanding about what it actually is. It’s misunderstood.
Bethan: the entire show is filled with things about topics in our society that we’re not actually supposed to talk about so openly. Issues such as FGM and rape are always othered, it’s never allowed to be personal, it’s always emotionless and statistical, whereas the Vagina Monologues is so personal. Plus, the word “vagina” is also pretty taboo as well.
Sophie: With FGM, people think it’s only a problem in Africa when it should be everyone’s problem. Making it personal makes it become more emotional than just a statistic.
Tell me a bit about how the play has helped women’s charities and a bit about the chosen charity for this year?
Bethan: All productions have to choose a local charity to support. Because of the cuts to such services that government deems unnecessary, it’s so important that there is money available. If it’s not being funded by the government, it’s not something we’re going to let slide
Jasmin: Chosen charities are usually ones that tackle violence against women such as rape crisis centres and domestic violence shelters. V-Day is a global activist movement established by Eve Ensler to end violence against women which was inspired by the Vagina Monologues. Money from productions has also been sent to this charity as well.
Sophie: This year’s chosen charity is ‘’LetGo’’, it provides support for domestic abuse survivors, counselling, new mobile phones, safe houses and overall helps them set up a new life.
Apart from the performance, how else do you fundraise for the charity?
Sophie: We’ve been doing cake stalls every Tuesday and we also do Lancaster University Run Against Domestic Violence (LURADV). LURADV is the main fundraiser other than the show. It’s a 10k run, jog, walk, whatever you can manage, around the campus. You can enter as an individual or a group/society/sports club.
And lastly, why should everyone come and support the play?
Bethan: Because it’s actually really funny and entertaining. But you also leave feeling inspired and changed
Jasmin: Also, because it effects everyone, it’s liberating, it’s insightful, and it’s educational. A contribution to a ticket is a support to the survivors of domestic violence. You need to see it to believe it.
Quotes from the cast:
Why I love The Vagina Monologues…
Anna Kettle: It’s a brilliant safe space in which you can not only be involved in the production but also come and have open chats about things people would shy away from
Alex Brock: It’s incredibly inclusive and a safe space. It’s also empowering because you can talk about vaginas in a non-stigmatising way and celebrate them
Olivia Lynes: Even when you’re really tired, I always want to go to the meetings because I get to talk about interesting stuff that could be about anything
The Vagina Monologues will be performed on the 13th and 14th February in The Great Hall.
Event and ticket information can be found here: https://www.facebook.com/events/576202905876735/