You don’t have to have a vagina to enjoy the hopeful, heartbreaking and uplifting stories performed in “The Vagina Monologues,” a play about women of different ages, races, nationalities and life experiences. And you don’t have to be a woman to connect with real-life stories that encourage us to talk about sexuality, violence, and love, which have inspired audiences and actors since they were first performed by Eve Ensler two decades ago.
The non-profit V-Day St. John’s will perform “The Vagina Monologues” on February 16, 17 and 18 to raise funds for Newfoundland Labrador Sexual Assault and Crisis Prevention Centre and Safe Harbor Outreach Project (S.H.O.P.). V-Day St. John’s is named after “V-Day,” a global movement to end violence against women and girls on February 14.
Each night, a completely different cast will perform the “Monologues.” Although V-Day St. John’s does not add original material to the play, they do include a few different skits every year. This year’s performance will bring back some older material written by Ensler that audiences may not have seen before.
Liz Hudson saw “The Vagina Monologues” for the first time in St. John’s in 2015. A teacher who never acted before, Hudson felt inspired by the show and joined the following year. “Though we share the same monologues each year with the addition of a spotlight piece, it’s neat to see how the show changes each year depending on who is reading the monologue,” said Hudson. “Each person reads each monologue differently in my opinion. It’s powerful to see how they translate their monologue to the audience through their words and actions.”
This year also marks the twentieth anniversary of “The Vagina Monologues,” originally written and performed by Ensler in New York City. The play has been performed internationally, especially on college campuses throughout North America. Sandra Mills, who has directed the play since 2011 and began acting in the “Monologues” in 2008, said that the play is still “so relevant.”
“We’re still talking about these issues, especially with male celebrities being taken to task,” said Mills. As Mills says, people are finally less afraid to talk about sexual assault openly, a trend that is reflected in the high-profile cases of sexual assault and harassment in recent months.
At the same time, these high profile cases are only the beginning of what many believe to be a larger cultural change. Meagan Campbell, a MUN alum who is performing the skit titled “My Short Skirt,” said, “For me, the relevance of participating in this play becomes obvious when I consider that some of my closest childhood friends can’t even say the word ‘vagina’ among female friends without squirming. I think about that when I hear questions aimed at assault victims along the lines of, ‘If you were uncomfortable, why didn’t you just leave?’ Well, if our bodies are a taboo subject, even to ourselves, how can we ever feel true ownership over them?”
Locally, Newfoundland has also struggled with confronting violence against women in our communities. In November of 2017, the death of Victoria Head sparked discussion in St. John’s about violence against women and sex workers. “Women that we’ve lost are always on our minds,” said Mills. This year, V-Day St. John’s is joining the St. John’s Status of Women Council and S.H.O.P. in calling for a provincial task force to address violence against women.
Mills said board members of V-Day St. John’s thought S.H.O.P., which provides support for women who engage in sex work in St. John’s, was a “poignant” choice as a recipient for the show’s proceeds this year.
“Monologues” is also about celebrating the good experiences in women’s lives and inspiring people in the community. Each night, V-Day St. John’s will be honoring a “Vagina Warrior” who has made a positive impact in St. John’s on behalf of women.
“The Vagina Monologues” has been criticized for equating having a vagina with being a woman, a criticism Ensler took to heart when she later added “They Beat the Girl Out of My Boy… Or So They Tried,” a skit that addresses transgender experiences. Although the cast this year mainly consists of cis, white women, Mills said her goal has been to include more trans, non-binary, and international actors in the cast.
“I treat this production as more of a bonding experience than strictly theatre because we have a lot of nonprofessional actors,” said Mills. That means that if you loved the “Monologues” and want to get involved in next year’s production, you can! Email V-Day St. John’s, follow them on Facebook, or come talk to the cast after the show if you’re interested in getting involved.
By: Natalie Dignam