Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Behind the scenes of The Vagina Monologues

Behind the scenes:
The Vagina Monologues

Friday 28th-Saturday 29th March, 2014

Théâtre des Grottes
Geneva, Switzerland

Geneva's V-Day Les Grottes team

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This week I am sharing another brave story. This weekend, the community of V-Day Les Grottes will be putting on two performances of The Vagina Monologuesan award-winning play written by Eve Ensler. The Monologues brings together divergent voices, juxtaposing stories of sexual abuse alongside stories of sexual discovery. This play has been performed for fifteen years now, in forty-eight languages, and is widely acknowledged as a celebration of women's sexuality and strength. 

Ensler interviewed more than two hundred women before she set pen to paper to create the Monologues. In this powerful interview, she introduces us to a play inspired by the abuse she suffered in her own life, proposing that
'If you tell the story of your vagina, you tell the story of your life, in some fundamental way.'
You can watch the rest of the interview here 

V-Day Les Grottes, Geneva 2014 is a community of volunteers here in Geneva who believe violence against women and girls should end. V-Day is a global movement to bring an end to violence against women, you can read a bit more about it here. This group are putting on a bilingual production of the Monologues, with performances in English and French to honour the international nature of Geneva, a city that has allowed women from across the world to work together on this project. 

Last week, I went along to their rehearsal to talk to the cast. Despite it's fifteen years in circulation and V-Day's goal to bring an end to violence against women, the Monologues still faces opposition, perhaps because of it's explicit content: the dramatic recountings of sexual abuse and orgasm. I talked to director, Cynthia Keza Birikundavy, about her position regarding the controversy surrounding the play.

Cynthia feels that putting on a production of the Monologues is not about being controversial, but about starting a conversation about sexual violence. She proposes that a reaction, good or bad, starts a conversation. Cynthia said she'd be more than happy to see "Penis Monologues" created to address the sexual violence and subsequent stigmatization men face. In her development studies, she focused on urban violence, which gave her quite a lot of insight into the ways in which men too suffer silently at the hands of abusers.

Cynthia quoted a line from the Monologues to sum up her thoughts:
"There’s so much darkness and secrecy surrounding them [vaginas] — like the Bermuda triangle. Nobody ever reports back from there."

Starting the conversation.

Tickets for this performance are sold out on both nights, with eighty-seven percent of proceeds raised from ticket sales and donations going to the global campaign, One Billion Rising, as well as Solidarités Femmes and VIRES Association, two local charities addressing domestic violence here in Geneva. You can read a bit more about the distribution of funds and these organisations here.

Starring amateur actors as well as those with experience, this weekend's performance has taken a lot of courage to pull together. I chatted to Ellie Feehan, who performs 'The Vagina Workshop' monologue, about her experience in the play. She felt that it was a positive step to talk openly about female sexuality and sexual violence to avoid the problems that arise from the taboo. Her feeling is that the less silence there is on the subject, the more women who are in the vulnerable positions portrayed in the Monologues can get the help they need. 

It was inspiring to see women of all ages and walks of life coming together after long days at work and long drives to put their time and energy into making this performance happen.

At the beginning of the rehearsal, after celebrating the fact that there was only one week left until show time, the cast were preparing and quickly having something to eat before a session of blocking, the theatrical device used to run through stage positions with just the opening and closing lines of each monologue.

After this, the respective Vaginas formed workshops to rehearse their individual monologues, offering each other feedback and constructive criticism.

The Monologues

I'd like to write down some of the opening lines of the monologues here to give an idea of the richness of this play - a tragic, comic, affronting piece of theatre -  and to share just how brave these women are to perform them.


"You cannot love a vagina unless you love hair. Many people do not love hair. My first and only husband hated hair. He said it was cluttered and dirty. He made me shave my vagina."

The Vagina Workshop.

"My vagina is a shell, a round pink tender shell opening and closing, closing and opening.  My vagina is a flower, an eccentric tulip, the center acute and deep, the scent delicate, the petals gentle but sturdy.
I did not always know this.  I learned this in the vagina workshop."

My vagina was my village. 

"My vagina was green, water soft pink fields, cow mooing sun resting sweet boyfriend touching lightly with soft piece of blonde straw. There is something between my legs. I do not know what it is. I do not know where it is. I do not touch. Not now. Not anymore. Not since. "

The flood.

"Down there? I haven’t been down there since 1953. No, it had nothing to do with Eisenhower. No, no, it’s a cellar down there. It’s very damp, clammy. You don’t want to go down there. Trust me. You’d get sick. Suffocating. Very nauseating. The smell of the clamminess and the mildew and everything. Whew! Smells unbearable. Gets in your clothes."

I was there in the room.

"I was there when her vagina opened. 
We were all there, her mother, her husband and I, 
and the nurse from the Ukraine with her 
whole handup there in her vagina feeling and turning 
with her rubberglove as she talked casually to us — 
like she was turning on a loaded faucet."

The woman who loved to make vaginas happy. 

"I love vaginas. I love women. I do not see them as separate things. Women pay me to dominate them, to excite them, to make them come. I did not start out like this. No, to the contrary: I started out as a lawyer, but in my late thirties, I became obsessed with making women happy."

And some of her stage instructions:

There's the clit moan (a soft in-the-mouth sound), the vaginal moan (a deep in-the-throat sound), the combo, clit-vaginal moan. There's the almost moan (a circling sound)...

My angry vagina
"My vagina’s angry.  It is.  It’s pissed off.  My vagina’s furious and it needs to talk.  It needs to talk about all this shit.  It needs to talk to you.  I mean what’s the deal — an army of people out there thinking up ways to torture my poor-ass, gentle, loving vagina."

The little coochi snorcher that could.

"Memory: December 1965, five years old. My mama tells me in a scary, loud, life-threatening voice to stop scratching my Coochi Snorcher. I become terrified that I’ve scratched it off down there. I do not touch myself again, even in the bath."

I'm wishing the cast the very best of luck this weekend, and look forward to seeing their performance on Saturday. If you would like to donate to the cause, please click here.

Thanks for reading. 

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