Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues marked the beginning of an effort to support a pro-vagina world for women everywhere. Published first in 1998, the book contains monologues from several different women who share their relationships with their vaginas. The Vagina Monologues won an Obie Award, and Ensler performed it for crowds around the country as it quickly grew in popularity. In Ensler’s travels, she talked to more and more women who shared their stories of sexual assault, rape, and violence. On Valentine’s Day, 1998, Ensler held the first V-Day (V for “victory, valentine, and vagina”) to call for an end to violence against women.
The first V-Day was a tremendous success, with over 2,500 people in attendance at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City to see Whoopi Goldberg, Susan Sarandon, Winona Ryder, Calista Flockhart, Marisa Tomei, Margaret Cho, Gloria Steinem, and Rosie Perez among, others, perform. Glenn Close chanted “cunt” with the entire crowd, and the event raised over $100,000 for organizations that work towards ending violence against women. This landmark event led to the V-Day College Campaign.
The V-Day College Campaign started with college and university students performing The Vagina Monologues and using the proceeds to support local women’s advocacy groups. In 1999, the first V-Day College Campaign was celebrated with performances by 65 schools from the United States and Canada. Self Magazine sponsored the 2000 campaign which included an empowerment workshop for women interested in performing. For 2003, students from hundreds colleges and universities from around the world have committed themselves to supporting the V-Day College Campaign, including the University at Buffalo.
Since the first performance of The Vagina Monologues, the reactions have been as varied as the audiences offering them. Many have stemmed simply from the use of the word “vagina.” Initially, Ensler’s search for a publisher was difficult, as one paid her an advance for it, then told her to keep the money and take it somewhere else. The New York Times refused to run an advertisement for the performance, then reviewed it as one of the “hottest tickets in town.” Women calling to buy tickets requested them for “The Monologues,” while ticket agents told them that they couldn’t purchase tickets if they couldn’t say the word “vagina.”
Similarly, reactions to the V-Day College Campaign rocked the societal norms and values boat. Students at Arizona State University constructed a forty-foot inflatable vagina to place along the entrance to the show. Later, House Appropriations Subcommittee on Education chairperson Linda Gray cited their production as one of the reasons to eliminate $1.6 million of funding for women’s studies programs at three Arizona universities, a remark she later rescinded. Before a 2000 performance of The Vagina Monologues at Washington University, fraternity members defaced promotional posters and threatened to disrupt the event. The student director invited them to a performance, after which they apologized for their ignorance.
UB will recognize V Day for its second year with its 2003 performance. Marcus Gottsche, a third year political science student, fondly recalls the 2002 UB performance of The Vagina Monologues. “The stage production was excellent. The fact that I still remember it says a lot. My eyes watered during several of the monologues, it was surprisingly emotional.”
The 2003 performances of The Vagina Monologues headed by director Susan Anner, and will include performances by Hallie Clark, a sophomore musical theater major, and Amy VanKirk, a sophomore dance major.
Anner became involved with The Vagina Monologues when asked to direct while standing in line to purchase tickets for a show held in the CFA last year. Having seen UB’s production and read the book, Anner was uncertain about how to take on the project. “When I read it on the page, I didn’t really see how it could be staged. Seeing it gave me ideas about how to approach that material, but I wasn’t even thinking about how to direct it when I saw it,” she said. But with actresses from the departments of theater, musical theater, and dance, many different perspectives and talents have been brought together. “We’ve tried to use each of their talents and what each person has brought to the table. They’re playing women who are very different from themselves, most of them are older than they are, some are a different orientation than they are, so it’s somewhat of a stretch for them to get into these characters, but they’re all doing really well.”
Clark is the only returning cast member from last year, while Allison Gozzi, a junior theater major who performed the monologue “Reclaiming Cunt” in last year’s performance, is the stage director for this year’s show.
The experience going from performer to stage director has been an extremely redeeming one for Gozzi. As an actress, she was both challenged by her role in last year’s performance but inspired by her ability to rise above it. “It’s changed me on so many different levels. Last year, learning how to open up myself and do something like screaming ‘cunt’ on stage, takes so much courage and I learned that I have that courage within me and I developed more pride in myself and discovered myself as a woman, as an artist, and as a human being,” she said excitedly. As stage manager, Gozzi was thrilled to see the play from the first rehearsals to the final product. “Seeing their first developments where they come in with their scripts and they say ‘I don’t really think I can connect with this character, I don’t know what it’s like to give birth,’ or ‘I don’t know what it’s like to be a seventy two-year-old woman who’s never had an orgasm before,’ we’ve found ways to work through these problems and found things that they can connect to. Watching their growth has been inspirational.”
Both van Kirk and Clark are very excited about the opportunity to perform The Vagina Monologues at UB. “It’s not very often that you get to talk about your vagina in front of hundreds of other people,” van Kirk said. All of the students involved have had interesting experiences telling family and friends about their involvement in The Vagina Monologues. van Kirk said, “My mom’s getting ready for it, not really looking forward to chanting ‘cunt’ in front of my father, but she’s excited. I’ll tell her on the phone ‘Oh, mom, gotta go to Vagina rehearsal.’ All my friends said, ‘you shortened it to Vagina? You didn’t shorten it to the Monologues?’ ‘Oh, yeah,’ I say, ‘I’m going to Vag now.’”
Gozzi recalled how her Catholic Italian father heard her using the word “cunt,” not knowing that she was performing the monologue “Reclaiming Cunt” and said “If you use that word again, you’re not allowed in this house anymore.” “He was just joking, but he thought it was such a terrible word. By the time he saw the show, he had a new understanding of what the word meant.”
With a play as female focused as The Vagina Monologues, why should men see it? Gozzi answered, “A number of men I know have said that the show isn’t directed towards them, and it isn’t. Men will never know what it’s like to have a vagina the same way women will never know what it’s like to have a penis. It’s who we are, we can’t change that, but I think that there’s enough that they can watch and learn from so that they don’t have to have that direct connection that women do.”
Offering another perspective, van Kirk said, “I had to tell another class why men should go see it and I said, ‘well, you have 12 hot girls on stage talking about sex, their pussies, cunts, vaginas, etc.’ I think that’s reason enough to go to the show, not to mention that it all goes to charity.”
Tickets are $7 for students, $17 for the general public and the proceeds benefit the Anti Rape Task Force.