Reimagined representations

The Vagina Monologues are back with a newfangled double feature presentation

The cast of the 11th production of Vagina Monologues at Queen’s aim to create a relevant space for open discourse.
The cast of the 11th production of Vagina Monologues at Queen’s aim to create a relevant space for open discourse.
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On a campus rich with a multitude of women’s experiences, there are far too few opportunities for honest and frank discussion of taboo subjects such as women’s sexuality. The Vagina Monologues has had a long history of opening up dialogue on such topics at Queen’s, having been performed here by students for the past 11 years. But for Shannon Goldberg, Vanita Sachdeva and Leora Smith, the directors of this year’s production of the show, the Vagina Monologues no longer creates a relevant space for this open discourse, as it did when it first opened 20 years ago.

“The play hasn’t completely evolved with social change, so things that were daring in the early 1990s are now totally naturalized and easy to say,” Sachdeva said. “It limits representations of [a woman’s] experiences to really extreme examples for shock value; the only cases of sexual assault are on women of colour and in war. The only queer experiences are when you’re … a sex worker.”

As a response to the limits of the Vagina Monologues, the directing team has decided to build on the tradition of the show while making revisions to account for the current experiences of women in the Queen’s community. This change comes in the form of Re-Vulva-Lutions, part two of the double-feature that will comprise this year’s show.

“We started by making a list of issues that we wanted the show to cover and we worked backward,” Sachdeva said.

“We looked at the current set of monologues and we decided which ones fit and which ones didn’t. We looked in a broad source of websites and books and YouTube videos and we asked people in the community to write things, and together we compiled seven new monologues.”

“It’s still the same show that people know and love and they should come see it and just be excited that there’s an added bonus of these new, really great monologues as well,” Smith added.

The seven new monologues featured in Re-Vulva-Lutions address difficult topics like gay marriage, rape and sex work. But despite the weighty subject matter of some of some pieces, the show adds a dose of comic relief in monologues about masturbation and dating.

The directors said they hope this balance of content will allow audience members to share some laughs, but also challenge themselves to think about the issues presented and to account for the diversity of experiences in the world.

“There’s a lot of things that are going to make you feel uncomfortable in the show and it’s very easy to push them away or just laugh them off,” Sachdeva said. “But you should challenge yourself and ask yourself why you feel like that and why you have such a reaction to certain things.”

The directors see the Vagina Monologues and Re-Vulva-Lutions as a form of activism, with implications for the audience and a cast and crew of over 40 women.

“Maybe people who have been struggling with these issues will think, ‘Oh yeah, I’m not alone! I’m not the only one who’s feeling this way, who’s frustrated, who wants to get enraged,’ I see it as a way to build a community,” Goldberg said.

This theme of community extends beyond the performance itself and into the activities surrounding the production. The cast and crew participate in weekly “Sunday Sessions” where participants are able deconstruct some of the subjects covered in the show and discuss issues that face women in the Queen’s and broader Kingston community.

“It’s not just a play, it’s about forming that community on campus,” Smith said. “What we found from our interviews [with cast and crew] was that a lot of people on this campus are looking for a positive community, and this is one. It’s nice to be a part of that.”

In an effort to extend this sense of community and to ensure that the show is accessible to as many people as possible, there will be childcare provided during performances in Convocation Hall, an accessible campus space. In addition to the $12-$15 tickets on sale in the Queen’s Centre, pay-what-you-can tickets are available at the Grey House. All proceeds from ticket sales will go to Dawn House, Interval House and Sexual Assault Center Kingston, three important organizations helping local women.

The directors of the Vagina Monologues and Re-Vulva-Lutions hope to have audience members who are willing to open their hearts and minds to new perspectives and that viewers will take something away from the show.

“We’re just trying to expose people to different ideas, both stories and theory, and what it means to be a feminist,” Sachdeva said. “It’s not just bra-burning, man-hating lesbians who don’t shave. But if you are that, rock on!”

The Vagina Monologues/Re-Vulva-Lutions cast perform a sold out show this Thursday at 8 p.m. Tickets still available for Friday’s performance at 8 p.m., Saturday’s 3 p.m. matinee and a final show at 8 p.m. in Convocation Hall.

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