“We were worried about vaginas,” announced 16 female students in unison, clad in red tops and black pants as they stood on the stage in the Theatre Classroom. “We were worried about what we think about our vaginas and even more, what we don’t think about them.”
These lines, which opened Friday night’s performance of Eve Ensler’s “The Vagina Monologues,” also reflect the motivation that many of the students had for participating in the play.
“As I get to know myself better, I have realized that growing up in a society where I felt like I had to hide certain parts of my anatomy and even be ashamed of them and consider sexuality and my own body as taboo topics has been the source of many of my insecurities and the source of a lot of suffering,” said Adriana Alovisetti ’15, one of the actresses in “The Vagina Monologues.”
She continued, “It was very important for me to participate in this performance as I saw in it an opportunity to raise awareness in our community about very important issues such as respect, consent and sexual abuse and to raise healthy and eye-opening discussions from the monologues.”
“The Vagina Monologues” is comprised of a set of monologues derived from interviews Ensler conducted with women of various ages and backgrounds. The monologues do not have to be performed in a specific order and have been altered and added to in the years since the original play’s publication in 1996.
After the Winter Term production of “Hands Up: 6 Playwrights, 6 Testaments,” a set of monologues that addressed race, Allen Grimm, Instructor in Theatre, suggested performing a similar play related to gender. He then enlisted Michaela Barczak ’15 as a director. The actresses rehearsed together only a few times before the performance.
In one of the monologues, called “The Vagina Workshop,” a character portrayed by Tessa Peterson ’15 feels insecure about her vagina until she attends a workshop in which she draws a picture of her “unique, beautiful, fabulous vagina,” as she said in the play. She then looks at herself with a hand mirror and finds her clitoris, after which she is overcome with emotion and begins crying, “knowing that [she] had to give up the fantasy, the enormous life- consuming fantasy, that someone or something was going to do this for me – the fantasy that someone was coming to lead my life, to choose direction, to give me orgasms,” as Peterson’s character stated.
“I performed in ‘The Vagina Monologues’ because I wanted to participate in a project raising discussion of and calling attention to women’s plights for equity,” said Peterson. “The Vagina Monologues” takes the first step in normalizing conversation about the female body not as a sex object but as a whole – as a body. I became more comfortable using the word vagina in public; I equipped myself with language to talk about my body and to know my body.”
In “The Woman Who Loved to Make Vaginas Happy,” Cam Mesinger ’16 portrayed a middle-aged woman who, after becoming obsessed with moaning, abandons her career as a lawyer to become a sex worker. Mesinger’s character recalled that while growing up she would be simultaneously fascinated and embarrassed by women moaning.
“I longed to moan. I practiced in front of my mirror, on a tape recorder, moaning in various keys, various tones. But always when I played it back, it sounded fake. It was fake. It wasn’t rooted in anything sexual really, only in my desire to be sexual,” Mesinger’s character said.
The men that Mesinger’s character had sex with were all embarrassed by her moans so she learned to swallow them. When she began to have sex with women, however, she discovered that they loved to hear her moan. The scene climaxed with Mesinger mimicking an array of moans, including the “semi-religious moan,” the “machine gun moan” and, finally, “the surprise triple orgasm moan.”
“My favorite part of my monologue was definitely the ending – the moaning was super intimate, and while I found it intimidating to perform at first, I had a lot of fun with it,” said Mesinger. “I performed in the play because I feel that they’re a good jumping-off point for conversations on the female body. There’s a really stupid stigma around everything associated with female genitalia, and I think that performing these plays somewhat broke the taboo.”
In the closing monologue, “I Was There in the Room,” Francisca Weirich-Freiberg ’17 portrayed a woman who recounts watching another woman give birth. Weirich-Freiberg’s character recalled the intense pain and chaos she witnessed and also the respect that the event instilled in her.
“We forget the vagina. What else would explain our lack of awe – our lack of wonder?” said Weirich- Freiberg’s character. “The heart is capable of sacrifice. So is the vagina. The heart is able to forgive and repair. It can change its shape to let us in. It can expand to let us out. So can the vagina. It can ache for us and stretch for us, die for us and bleed and bleed us into this difficult, wondrous world.”
After the play, there was a mandatory discussion in which performers and audience members shared their thoughts on the play, including its controversial aspects and shortcomings.
Barczak said, “We wanted to hold the discussion afterwards because there were certain topics that the show did not address, or we felt did not handle well, and while we felt the messages of the play were important to share, some of the lines even made the actresses uncomfortable, and we wanted to give them an opportunity to share that with the audience. For example, although the play is great about empowering women to accept their vaginas, it also directly associates being a woman with having a vagina, which is an exclusive and cisnormative viewpoint.”
Those involved in the show took away a new confidence and openness about their bodies.
“The biggest thing I took away is a new comfort with the word ‘vagina’ in my vocabulary. When we were first discussing the possibility of putting on the show, I wouldn’t even say the title because I was so embarrassed, but after working with the 16 amazing and open actresses, by the day of the performance I was walking around with a big red ‘V’ on my head, shouting for everyone to come see ‘The Vagina Monologues,’” said Barczak. “The show helped me to accept that vaginas are not something people should be embarrassed to discuss.”