V-Day reimagines victory

Vagina Monologues carry on and revamp the vagina legacy at Queen’s

Maggie Vincent takes a moment to check in with her vagina.
Maggie Vincent takes a moment to check in with her vagina.
Supplied Photo by Marwa Yasmine Abdou
With a cast of 33 women, the Vagina Monologues hit Wellington Street Theatre this Friday.
With a cast of 33 women, the Vagina Monologues hit Wellington Street Theatre this Friday.
Supplied Photos by Marwa Yasmine Abdou

The financial climate, the job market, the environment, Obama moving into the White House—change is everywhere in 2009, and the team of individuals involved in this year’s production of the Vagina Monologues are getting in on it.

Encouraging women and girls to reclaim control and autonomy over their bodies, their femininity and themselves, the play has held a place as a long-standing tradition at Queen’s. This year though, the trio of directors Vlada Bilyak, Katrina Keilhauer and Rachel Lipton are set on giving the Monologues a facelift.

A change of venue, an extra director and an expansion in cast are only a handful of indicators of the directors’ vision in approaching the 10-year vagina legacy in a new and exciting way.

The production implies a careful re-interpretation of the episodic play written by Eve Ensler. The play was originally created as the centerpiece for V-day, the international movement for gender equality, safety, empowerment and the ceasing of violence against women. Those involved in portraying the award-winning Broadway piece seem committed to conveying Ensler’s message while also satisfying their contemporary goals for the play as a collective group, and presenting their fresh take on the material.

“One of our goals was to change each monologue in a way that was not monotonous, since the play is put on every year,” Keilhauer said.

“We additionally made a very conscious effort this year to pay more attention to marginalized feminisms.”

A diverse cast of 33 strong portrays the monologues and, from their first full run-through alone, the production is evidently in safe hands. The actors come to their monologues with skill but also the passion and momentum that drives the cause, making the performances all the more moving.

This is impressive especially considering the show requires such a large cast and deals with women’s sexuality in both fun and serious ways.

“Its been a big challenge for the cast especially, a lot more demanding for the actors with a lot more physical stimulation for the audience, but they’ve been so great,” Keilhauer said.

“This year is so new. There are new things to think about, new ways to perceive the Vagina Monologues and feminism.” Keilhauer said.

A new challenge the group was forced to face was the politics involved in having three individuals direct the play. Splitting the material into thirds solved this dilemma, Lipton said, adding that there was an initial difficulty in balancing the work.

“As directors, we had a hard situation. We’ve been a lot more strong and assertive in our directing because we had lots of ideas about what we wanted. With three directors, we’ve rehearsed a lot more, allowing a lot more time for each monologue with the ability to split up and reconvene,” she said.

“We all have our own little vagina families, and we can maintain our creative control,” Bilyak added.

Previously set in the cavernous Grant Hall, the directors decided to downsize this year to the Wellington Street theatre to yield a more interactive and inviting experience for viewers.

“We’re making the production into a more intimate, engaging space, so the audience won’t be so separate,” Lipton said. “By changing the theatre, the audience experience will be augmented in a very cool way.” The change in venue has potential for incorporating the audience into the experiences of the cast members by placing them directly in front of the actors on the same physical level. Bilyak, Keilhauer and Lipton can hardly contain their excitement as they explain this new audience-actor relationship. This time around it’s more visually stimulating, emotionally and physically engaging as the actors go into the audience, the directors said.

Personal growth and involvement are paramount for the three directors but also the production itself. Bilyak said their mutual hopes was for the new theatre to become a tool for connection with the audience, bringing them into the vagina experiences.

“The people in the cast go through such a journey throughout preparation, and in previous years, the audience has recognized it, appreciated it, but remains slightly detached once they’re home. This time though, they are involved in the piece and can really feel the monologues and what the women before them have to say, taking something away from the performances when they leave,” Bilyak said.

In 2009 the Vagina Monologues crew has high hopes for their brand-new location to draw in and incorporate groups beyond that of the Queen’s campus. Indicative of this, the cast is expanding into the community performing two shows free of charge: one for local Grade 12 female students, and one for local female shelter residents to enjoy. The group expressed a desire to appeal and radiate on a broad scope in order to make a significant impact with their work.

Since the play has been criticized in the past for a somewhat imperialistic feminist perspective, the directors rebuilt their version of the play by questioning as many aspects of the production as they could. They took advantage of Sunday afternoon rehearsals not only to practice as a group, but also to involve the entire cast in checking in, gathering feedback and discussing their individual and collective pieces and even screening films pertinent to their peformance.

Working so closely with one another, the community that formed among the actors is palpable.

Even just observing the ladies of the Vagina Monologues participating in a group orgasm, collectively reading “Phenomenal Woman” by Maya Angelou, tossing up their victory Vs (it stands for vagina, not peace) and engaging in a huge group hug at the end of the rehearsal, I immediately felt welcomed into the circle.

Anne Voorheis, actor in the moving monologue “My Vagina Was My Village,” confirmed my understanding of their camaraderie.

“It’s been absolutely incredible to work with and get to know these beautiful and talented women in such an intimate environment in a way that would not have been possible without the play,” she said.

From women who hesitantly re-discover their vaginas at age 72 to women who have lost their relationships with their vaginas to violence and terror, the monologues encourage dialogue between people of all genders.

Attendees of the Monologues this weekend will leave the theatre struck by a production that is an endearing bundle of emotions—hilarious and heart breaking, angry and forgiving and hurt yet hopeful.

The Monologues are a crucial cultural and community product that demands you listen up—whether you have a vagina or not.

Performances of the Vagina Monologues take place this Friday at 8 p.m. and this Saturday at 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. at the Wellington Street Theatre. Tickets are $20 for adults and $15 for students with student ID.

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