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Monologues raise discussions about ‘down there’

One of the actors in the production practices her piece. (Nicole Vermeer)

“Are you happy now? You got an old lady to talk about her down there!”

This line ends one of the 13 skits in this year’s Mills College production of the “Vagina Monologues.” The play, first performed in 1996 by Eve Ensler, is popular worldwide more than a decade later, and has inspired women everywhere to start talking about their ‘down there.’

“To be honest I was really nervous – it was kind of crossing my boundaries,” said first-year Claire Kaufmann, who performs in the play. “But in the end it was good for me to open up… It was a new experience for me.”

According to director Chloe Garcia, a junior at Mills, women tried out who initially were not even comfortable saying the word ‘vagina.’ However, they had to learn to lose their inhibitions fast. The auditions for this year’s play included making orgasm sounds.

The “Vagina Monologues” began its second run in Off-Broadway theater in 1998, according to, the Web site for the non-profit foundation that Ensler created along with one of the directors of the stage production. V-day’s motto is: “Until the violence stops.”

Since then, the V-day campaign has raised over $70 million to help stop violence against women, according to the Web site. Over 4,200 V-Day events will occur in 2010.

One of these will be the second annual production of the “Vagina Monologues” on campus, which is raising money for various organizations such as Art Aids Art and Students Active for Ending Rape (SAFER). This year’s performances will be Feb. 19 and 20 at 7 p.m. and on Feb. 21 at 2 p.m. The evening shows cost $5 for Mills students and $10 for non-Mills students. The matinee is $3 for Mills students and $7 for non-Mills students.

This year’s production has new leadership and is directed by Garcia, as well as senior Sandeep Brar and sophomore Julia Gache.

The three are recruiting artists to donate their work to raise money during the performances.

All were involved with the newly reinstated Vagina Friendly Club at Mills, which raised money for the “Vagina Monologues” production through fundraisers such as a bake sale, during which the club sold cupcakes with frosting made to look like a vagina. These bake sales raised a majority of the money to produce the play, according to Gache.

One issue the production faced was re-casting the play, which was originally cast at the end of the fall semester. Several actors dropped out at the beginning of this semester due to the time commitment. At present there are about 30 cast members, who together perform 13 monologues ranging from five to 15 minutes long.

Garcia and Gache said their goal is to raise awareness about violence against women.

“We’re raising awareness on campus for people who have vaginas to fight for them,” said Garcia.

According to the directors and cast members, there is a lack of women’s rights activism on campus.

“People come to see [the play] but they don’t know why they’re doing it,” said Garcia. “There’s no impact.”

Garcia and Gache described an instance where “F–k you Vagina Monologues” was found graffitied in one of the Lucy Stern bathrooms.

“What are you protesting?” said Garcia. “There must be some issue if people would do that.”

Sophomore Shauna Corbitt (left) and first-year Aisha Gonzalez (right) observe as castmates practice their parts. (Nicole Vermeer)

Gache said the club wants to open dialogue on campus.

“It would be nice for people to speak up and let us know if they have an issue. We all have different opinions. We can’t do this ourselves,” Gache said.

One issue many have with the Vagina Monologues is its connection to second-wave feminism, which is often characterized by its exclusion of transgendered women.

“Until recently it was pretty trans-phobic,” said cast member Jessica Glennon, first-year student.

However, this year’s directors are trying to change that image.

Garcia explained how the production is becoming more diverse. “Our show this year includes a transgender piece, women of color, rich white women…,” she said before Gache continued, “…poor white women, gay women, straight women…”

“…In-between women,” interrupted Garcia, “Maybe people who aren’t even biologically representative of a woman but who identify as women.”

Garcia first saw the transgendered piece at UC Berkeley and later was in a conference call with prominent women’s rights organizers including Ensler. Ensler gave the new directors the choice of five new skits, and they chose the transgendered piece called “They beat the girl out of my boy.” The skit deals with the violence that most transgendered women experience.

“All of us here are going through different ‘transitions.’ It has to do with finding out who your are,” said Garcia. “We tried really hard to make it available to everyone.”

“I like that Eve [Ensler] is allowing the play to grow,” said Glennon. “A lot of people thought it was regressive, second-wave. But she allowed it to evolve into what feminist thought encompasses today.”

According to Gache one of the goals of the production was to get the audience to connect.

Garcia said personal experience can be a big thing to increase awareness. The main goals of the directors are to raise awareness about violence against women among all kinds of people, not just Mills students.

“We want to get support from [men] as well as women – it will be uncomfortable for a lot of men to hear a woman scream ‘cunt’ at the top of her lungs, but then it’s uncomfortable for a lot of women too.”

Glennon thinks that it’s part of the appeal.

“[The changes] to the play keep it fresh and relevant, but screaming cunt in a theater never gets old.”