A behind the scenes look at two anti-violence theatrical works
It’s that time again for V-Day Guelph’s production of Eve Ensler’s episodic play, The Vagina Monologues. V-Day Guelph, “a CSA-accredited group working on campus and in the community to promote anti-violence through art and activism,” produces The Vagina Monologues annually. This year the group is also presenting Grey, a feature show containing true stories related to sex and gender by local authors.
The Ontarion spoke to Rachel Schenk Martin, director of The Vagina Monologues and a fifth-year U of G student majoring in psychology and minoring in classical studies.
—Rachel Schenk Martin, director for The Vagina Monologues
Schenk Martin became involved with The Vagina Monologues “after seeing a poster advertising auditions in my second year.” She told The Ontarion that she has “loved it ever since.”
When asked about the importance of this production for the community, Schenk Martin stated that the show’s proceeds go to local charities while its narrative promotes positive body image and self-love, “which can be very difficult in today’s socio-cultural climate.”
She expanded on the power of artistic expression to inspire social change, explaining that the show allows “people to express their emotions through art. I am a strong advocate for art as a means of revolution. Words have the power to change people and the world, and I fully believe that this show can do that.”
“We don’t want to deny that there are issues in the way that the show was originally written, the voices that were included, or the stories that were chosen,” she said. “For this reason, we have made several changes to our production, especially focusing on gender-inclusive language. We know that not every woman has a vagina, and not everyone with a vagina is a woman — this year’s production addresses that. The show has also been critiqued for focusing too much on female sexuality; but I believe that a major purpose for the show is allowing women to express their sexuality in a fun way, and to reclaim that narrative for themselves.”
Miriam Kearney, a recent graduate of U of G’s general arts program and stage manager for both productions, agrees with Schenk Martin’s assessment of the show: “The Vagina Monologues is not a perfect show. It doesn’t encompass everything, and it doesn’t speak for everyone. We’ve done our best to make it more inclusive, more up to date, and to break the notion that having a vagina is key to womanhood, but there is always more that could be done. I’d encourage anyone who has ideas on how to make it better to please talk to us to change things for next year.”
On the importance of the play: “I think the importance of The Vagina Monologues is that it talks about stuff that not much else does. It talks about having a vagina and everything that comes with that. It talks about sex. It talks about sexual assault. I think it’s important for everyone — but especially students who are just starting out on their own — to hear different points of view, to know they’re not alone, and most importantly, to know they can talk about it.”
—Miriam Kearney, stage manager
Schenk Martin’s production of The Vagina Monologues focuses on “being more inclusive of all people with vaginas, whether they are men, women, non-binary, genderqueer, third gender, gender variant, genderfluid, and any and all other gender identities.” She also hopes to emphasize “the overarching themes of positive body image and self-love,” explaining, “Many people with vaginas are ashamed of them, they hide them, they’re self-conscious about them. This show has the potential to change that, and I’m excited to see that impact.”
The Ontarion also spoke to the director of Grey: Lovleen Gill, a fourth-year U of G student specializing in neuroscience and psychology.
—Lovleen Gill (left), director of Grey
Gill explained that Grey was developed after an open call for submissions of “true stories of sexual assault, gender-based violence, and various other gender topics” from local authors in October. Describing the number of submissions as “both inspiring and heartbreaking,” Gill noticed a certain theme emerging: “I found that there was an overlapping theme of confusion and uncertainty accompanying incidences of ‘non-traditional rape.’”
A clear conflict in representation and the reality of lived experiences was evident in these works.
Grey, like The Vagina Monologues, is also a series of monologues. But that’s not all they have in common. “Both shows are extremely powerful and inspiring. Viewers should be prepared for their worlds to change after seeing these two shows and prepare to create change themselves,” said Gill.
The Ontarion also connected with Grace Tenszen, a second-year U of G student who is majoring in biology and minoring in French, and an actor in this year’s performance of The Vagina Monologues. Tenszen, who performed in the production last year as well, commented on the differences she has noticed.
—Grace Tenszen, actor
“I think the most significant differences between this year’s production and last year’s production is what has happened in the world over the past year. Events that have proved we still have a long way to go in terms of equality (i.e. Donald Trump being elected, the rise of the alt-right movement) and events that have pushed even harder for equality and fairness to prevail (i.e. the #MeToo movement, Black Lives Matter movement, and the Time’s Up initiative),” Tenszen wrote in an email to The Ontarion.
“There are definite setbacks in what we are trying to accomplish for equality, but also hope moving forward. I believe this year the directors have tried extra hard to update certain monologues, to make them more relevant in light of current events. For example, we have edited a monologue to address the serial harassers and abusers in Hollywood, and we are trying to make the monologues’ language as inclusive as possible,” she concluded.
The Vagina Monologues and Grey will be performed at the George Luscombe Theatre on Friday, Feb. 9 and Saturday, Feb. 10.
Photo by Alora Griffiths/The Ontarion