If you stop by the WestCo lounge on Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday night, you may catch some members of the Wesleyan community talking about vaginas. It should look nothing like last week’s production of The Vagina Monologues. And that’s the point.
“I have always really not liked The Vagina Monologues, but not because I don’t like the people who are involved in the show here,” explains producer Olivia May ’14. “The show itself never felt welcoming to my experience, and I can really imagine how it would feel less welcoming to a whole lot of other people.” Co-producer Emma MacLean ’14 adds, “I’ve always felt that there is more to be said than what gets said in The Vagina Monologues.”
May and MacLean decided to channel their feelings to a new production last semester, and began reaching out to anyone they felt might be interested in speaking about gender in a non-traditional format. They recruited speakers from the queer community, Women of Color House and Womanist House and also called for performers on Facebook last week. “There was an effort to include some people who might not have as strong of a theater voice, and also people with things to say,” says MacLean.
While The Vagina Monologues also tends to include people who may not have participated in theater before, the producers emphasized that they were looking for many different perspectives in this production. “I didn’t want this show to be me talking to people and making their experiences into performances,” says May, in direct contrast to Eve Ensler. “I wanted the performers to be people who in the past might not have felt that there were roles or productions that were appealing to them or the experiences they had been through.”
The producers admit that their project and their individual presentations grew out of a frustration on several levels with the The Vagina Monologues. They wanted to push back against the show’s conceit that being feminine is rooted in one’s genitalia. May states, “The piece as a whole suggests that your vagina is the starting point for womanhood, which is of course a terrible, terrible idea to spread. I don’t think it allows for the possibility of people being women and not having vaginas, or having vaginas and not being women, or the multitudinous other configurations of gender and body that exist.”
MacLean noted that she wanted to organize a more flexible show than The Vagina Monologues. “It gets put on every year with very little change. I find it weird that we’ve picked this single woman who gets to say everything there is to say about vaginas. I think a lot of the monologues are very internally troubling in the stories they present.”
The first change people will notice between the two productions is the title. The producers note that the performers are still performing monologues, but they wanted the piece to feel like more of a dialogue. May explains, “The Vagina Monologues is kind of one person’s voice because Eve Ensler adapted all of the monologues, which isn’t inherently bad.” MacLean adds, “It’s an effort to talk about things, not talk at people.”
What will you see in this unconventional piece? MacLean and May might not be able to tell you, since they will see most pieces for the first time on Wednesday night. They both emphasized that they wanted the work to feel fresh and truthful. “The role of Emma and I in this production is to produce. We have not edited anyone’s material, or assigned anyone to talk about anything specifically. We are there for creative support as peers, but this work is not organized or curated by us,” states May. MacLean emphasizes the independent nature of the writing and production: “People can make whatever they want to make.”
Performer Jackie Soro ’14 says that her piece was based on her current feelings. “I wrote it today,” she laughs. “But that’s what I like about it. It’s stream of consciousness, what I’m feeling.” Soro promises to present a deeply personal yet relatable monologue, explaining, “It’s a series of letters to people or ideas that have affected my vagina, so there’s one to my doctor, to the first boy I ever had sex with, to hands. It varies.”
When MacLean discovered what Soro was planning to present, she exclaimed, “That’s a super awesome idea!” It’s admirable that the producers support the performers and have built a platform for others to express their feelings. Other presentations will include a dance and a mostly silent piece. One work is about the performer’s reluctance to speak about her vagina.
The producers are optimistic that “The Shmagina Dialogues,” or some version of it, will be presented again at Wesleyan. “My secret hope is that someone other people will be inspired by this and will try to do it again next year, if only because I think a lot of people at Wesleyan have stories and want to share them, and I think creating a space for those stories is always a good thing,” shares MacLean.
May agreed with MacLean. “I would love for this to keep happening, even if it doesn’t resemble this [year’s presentation] at all. This is a piece that didn’t have any auditions. Anyone who wanted to be in it could be in it, and I think that’s an important opportunity to have at Wesleyan.” Soro chimed in with the last word: “It’s not gender segregated, and that’s great.”
“The Shmagina Dialogues” will be performed Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday at 8 pm in the WestCo lounge. Don’t miss this unique production.