Vagina Monologues–and more!

Every Valentine’s Day weekend (Feb. 14-17) Guilford recognizes the epidemic violence against women across the world by performing “The Vagina Monologues,” Eve Ensler’s classic episodic play exploring women’s experience. But this year, senior co-directors Kathrin Gilbert and Mary Nevin Hobgood decided to change things up. Instead of only performing “The Vagina Monologues” for all three nights, the directors introduced a newer play, “A Memory, A Monologue, A Rant, and a Prayer,” to the program.

In contrast to “The Monologues,” which is solely Ensler’s work, “Memory” is compiled by dozens of diverse authors. The play attempts to tackle an equally diverse range of issues, including race, class, power, and structural violence. But the starkest contrast to the original monologues was the gender-neutral casting call.

“Part of the reason why we chose to (perform Memory) is because “The Vagina Monologues” are problematically cut and dry,” Gilbert said. “‘The Vagina Monologues’ are written by a white woman of a certain generation. For Eve Ensler’s generation they are completely revolutionary, but for our generation it isn’t as revolutionary as it was. The new show talks about the systems that everyone is hurt by, structures by which everyone is oppressed.”

The role of men in “The Vagina Monologues” is a continual topic of debate, though the usual solution is staffing the event with male ushers. Hobgood and Gilbert’s decision to bill the two plays, one with male actors, together had the potential for controversy.

“I was weirded out when I saw that they were accepting male auditions,” said Eric Mortensen, assistant professor of religious studies who acted in “Memory.” “‘The Vagina Monologues’ are a woman’s space in a powerful way. When I came to the audition I was actually a little pissed off.”

Despite the open casting call, comparatively few men came to the “Memory” auditions. Luckily, most of the women who tried out were equally excited about both plays.

“I wanted to be in ‘Memory’ because the audition pieces were more interesting; they addressed complexities that ‘The Vagina Monologues’ didn’t,” said senior Jennifer St. Mary, a veteran of the monologues. “‘The Vagina Monologues’ are important in their own respect, but men are affected by violence against women as well. It is important to allow a space for men to speak about that.”

Every year’s performance of the Vagina Monologues includes a spotlight monologue highlighting a specific event that is of particular relevance to the play’s themes. This year’s spotlight compared the plight of post-Katrina New Orleans to the marginalized status of women in America.

“The more I recited it, the more I realized what an interesting frame (it was) to see the situation in the gulf coast through,” said senior Chelsea Simpson, one of the three performers in the spotlight on New Orleans monologue. “The way the city is treated is so different from our idealized notion of it (just like our societal treatment of women). We talk about how fun it is to go and party in New Orleans but when the city is literally drowning we do nothing.”

Both plays received equal billing, with “Memory” performed Thursday and Saturday, “The Vagina Monologues” Friday and Sunday. Despite the novelty and excitement surrounding the new play, “The Vagina Monologues” was not neglected by audiences. Bryan Jr. Auditorium, which housed both performances, filled up all four nights.

Both plays were extremely successful, raising $2,300, some of which will be sent to New Orleans. The rest will go to a local beneficiary.