I first encountered “The Vagina Monologues” in the summer of 2012. I don’t recall how I got my hands on the script, but it inspired me. I highlighted, underlined, and filled the white space with the many questions it evoked: is it wrong and a product of the patriarchy that I sincerely prefer to have almost no body hair? Can a vagina actually “flood”? What does my “uninhibited militant bisexual moan” sound like?
I was shy about my curiosity, so I never showed anyone the book or voiced my questions. This changed when I joined the cast of “The Vagina Monologues” here at Wesleyan.
After we were cast, we memorized our monologues over winter break and had about three one-on-one rehearsals with our directors (Jessica Carlson ’16, Simone Hyman ’15, and Mariana Quinn-Makwaia ’14) before tech week. Our first rehearsal as a full cast was only five days before opening night.
The show sold out all three nights, and an extra 5 to 15 seats were added each night to accommodate the enthusiastic audience. After seeing the show, one of my friends commented that it made her want to have really hot, feminist sex. I’d say that the writer of the show, Eve Ensler, would be pretty pleased by that.
The show’s format allowed us all to listen to each other’s monologues. The directors chose to give it a family-room feel by setting the stage with couches, stools, and rugs that we would lounge on while listening to our fellow cast members perform. Some of the monologues were more interactive and called for the participation of those onstage. For example, when Avigayl Sharp ’17 performed “The Woman Who Loved To Make Vaginas Happy” and talked about how much she loved to make women moan, we moaned with her. On a more somber note, when Chloe Rinehart ’14 performed “What If I Told You I Didn’t Have a Vagina,” describing the rape of a Congolese woman, she had the other girls on stage stand with her in solidarity.
There was a drastic difference between watching each other rehearsing for the first time and seeing the monologues truly come to life in front of the audience, who responded differently each night. Sophie Becker ’16’s recitation of “Because He Liked To Look At it” absolutely lit up with an audience to receive it; she, like all of us, fed off viewers’ energy to intensify her performance. The monologues thus became dialogues, with the audience laughing, crying, and gasping in turn. Dominique Cameron-Rouge ’16’s monologue, “Cunt,” went so far as to break the fourth wall, beginning in the audience and ending by encouraging viewers to join the cast in a chant.
Our onstage camaraderie was only intensified offstage. At the first cast meeting, a dinner, it was already clear that the cast was made up of a group of really wonderful people, the kind who are comfortable discussing Kegels over a bowl of pasta. We would begin every rehearsal by sharing a high-of-the-day, and these chats would continue backstage where there would be a heart-to-heart happening five feet from an embarrassing sex story. The atmosphere allowed us to let loose and click with each another in a way that usually takes months for a group to do.
Participating in “The Vagina Monologues” gave me the chance to experience what it’s really about. When I initially read the script in its book form, I was curious about what I read, but was too shy to explore that curiosity by talking to other people about it. Through performing it at Wes, I inadvertently answered many of the questions I had scribbled in the margins. Once I entered the very open environment of the cast, I felt comfortable voicing these questions for the first time and found that other people shared a lot of similarly guarded thoughts.
This experience allowed me to see that Eve Ensler’s mission was to help viewers and participants alike feel more at home with something that is so beautiful. Once we love our bodies, I learned, we can take the next steps forward toward equality and justice.