“I bet you’re worried. We were worried. We were worried about vaginas.” – Opening of The Vagina Monologues
And perhaps, you’re worried.
You may be wondering what the word ‘vagina’ is doing taking a stroll, sunbathing outside its clinical cupboard with the other ‘unmentionables,’ gracing the pages of your weekly 507.
On Feb 1-3, over 20 Rochester women will be staging a benefit production of Eve Ensler’s iconic play, The Vagina Monologues, at the Rochester Civic Theatre. First performed in 1996 in New York City, the play is made up of a series of monologues inspired by interviews Ensler conducted with women about sex and relationships, as well as violence against women. With humor and brutal honesty, many of the monologues shed light on the stark realities of gender-based violence, sexism, and misogyny facing women every day.
For the co-directors of the Rochester production, Emily Gresbrink and Stephanie Sedarski, the 20-year-old script feels as urgent and as relevant as ever. “I need this play right now. Like so many, I’ve been struggling with the political state of things in our country. I submitted the request for rights for the script on election night. I needed the Monologues back in my life. The raw power of those stories is like ‘vagina rehab.’ We need this play right now,” says Gresbrink.
The local production is in solidarity with hundreds of similar events and performances of The Vagina Monologues and other Eve Ensler plays. Events are held all over the world between February 1 and April 30 each year as part of the V-Day movement. V-Day is committed to ending violence against women and girls, as well as men. Over the last 18 years, V-Day has worked to educate millions about the issue of gender-based violence, reopened shelters, and funded community-based anti-violence programs and safe houses.
Proceeds from the Rochester production of The Vagina Monologues will benefit the Rochester Women’s Shelter. Additional activities connected to the show in Rochester include a bake-sale and an opportunity for audience members to share their own thoughts and experiences in an art piece. The cast will also be collecting non-perishable items for the women’s shelter. “We’ve put up a Go Fund Me page for those out there who want to support the cause but may not be able to make it to the show,” Gresbrink adds.
Since it first debuted, The Vagina Monologues has taken some heat, particularly around issues concerning women of color and transgender women. These issues reflect a larger conversation around gender, feminism and “intersectionality”—or the ways we all experience our identities together, instead of siloed out in a vacuum. In response, some productions of Ensler’s play have cast only transwomen or just women of color. Gresbrink explains, “Each production should reflect its community and the women who are part of it. Our production here in Rochester is diverse in ways you wouldn’t expect. A fun fact is that we had an overwhelming number of older women audition for and cast in the show. Another cast member asked if she could have her baby with her on stage while she delivered her monologue during the show. This production is unique to the women who are in it.”
Cast member Kem Enerson says, “The play is shocking and it’s powerful and it’s funny. It is everything I needed to read about female empowerment.” Many of the other cast members share Enerson’s experience of feeling empowered and even healing from past personal trauma and experiences. The cast and crew behind the Rochester show invite both women and men to come out and see the play. “I think people are really off-put by the title and some of the content in the monologues. Sure, it will challenge people and make them squirm a little. But the play uses art to address difficult subjects and to lift up really important women’s issues.” Gresbrink states.
The Vagina Monologues is by turns hilarious and heart-rending. Beyond its punchy title, the play invites us to enter the lived realities of women and girls, while celebrating the incredible power, beauty, and resilience of womanhood.
The Vagina Monologues
7 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 1 through Friday, Feb. 3
Rochester Civic Theatre, 40 Civic Center Dr. SE