The idea of getting up in front of a large audience of people terrifies social relations and policy junior Katelyn Charbeneau. “I have stage fright. I am actually very scared of being on stage,” Charbeneau said. “I get really nervous, especially in front of a big crowd.”
Yet, on February 20th and 21st Charbeneau will be making orgasmic moans and screaming “vagina” at the top of her lungs in front of hundreds of her peers. Charbeneau is a cast member of MSU’s 2009 production of the provocative and controversial “The Vagina Monologues.” [andi]
While some might be taken aback by its name, “The Vagina Monologues”, written by Eve Ensler in 1996, is a show full of vignettes that portray women’s experiences with their vaginas. Comedic one woman acts discuss visits to the gynecologist and cold metal duck lips and serious monologues discuss sexual violence and sexual repression. The Monologues make known a wide range of issues surrounding the vagina, the women who posses them, and the men who love them.
Unlike New York performances of the Monologues that have featured such renowned actresses as Calista Flockhart and Jane Fonda and big name celebrities like Oprah, this years MSU production features women majoring in everything from journalism to pre-nursing. Some have acting experience and others do not, but all of these women will take to the stage with the hopes of enlightening the MSU community about womanhood, sexuality, and, of course, vaginas. [vagpic3]
MSU’s production of the Vagina Monologues, however, is about more than just female bonding or discussing shockingly taboo subject matter. The show itself is an extension of the V-Day movement, which is a campaign to stop sexual violence against women and girls. What does the V stand for you might ask? According to vday.org, the V stands for “Victory, Valentine, and Vagina.” While past V-Day themes have included the women of New Orleans and Iraq, this year’s V-Day theme is about combating sexual violence in the Congo.
2009 marks the ten year anniversary of the V-Day movement, so this year’s cast of “The Vagina Monologues” is celebrating by giving back to the MSU community. They have turned the Monologues into a registered student organization and this years directors, Krysta Michorczyk, Amanda Dubey and Shannon Nobles, have arranged for 90 percent of the shows proceeds to go directly to MSU’s Sexual Assault Program. The remaining 10 percent will support the worldwide V-Day cause – ending sexual violence in the Congo.
“When all three of [the directors] got together, we [decided] that start-up costs were not so ridiculously unachievable that we couldn’t raise the money ourselves,” journalism senior and Monologues director Krysta Michorczyk said. “If we sell out all three shows and do great we can kick back a ton of money. We really want educating the MSU community about sexual assault to be a year round thing, not just one weekend every February when the Vagina Monologues is on stage.”
With the sustainability of sexual assault prevention programs in mind, the directors began working with Shari Murgittroyd, the program coordinator for the MSU Sexual Assault Program.
“I just feel so honored that they choose our program,” Murgittroyd said. Buried on the basement level of the Student Services Building, the MSU Sexual Assault Program will not only receive funding from the Monologues, but also some long needed promotion of the program itself.
[krysta2] “I think [this partnership] is going to help us get our name out there too as a resource so that students know we exist,” Murgittroyd said. “A lot of people go to the Vagina Monologues, but with a campus this size they don’t even know that there is a sexual assault program until they need our services.” Murgittroyd said she wishes that students were better informed about the programs existence because many students could benefit from their services like counseling and providing information on sexual assault prevention.
The MSU Sexual Assault Program offers other services too including a 24-hour crisis hotline, medical advocacy at Sparrow Hospital, sexual assault therapy, and support groups. The Program is asking the cast and crew of the Monologues to direct the usage of the funds within the program in whatever manner they think would be most helpful.
“We want to empower the cast and the directors,” Murgittroyd said. “We want them to tell us how [they] want us to spend this money. On our resource library? More books and educational videos, documentaries? Direct services to clients, like emergency transportation needs? Legal advocacy? Things like that.”
The cast members of the Monologues themselves all have very different reasons for getting involved with the production. For many, like MSU alum Andi Osters, just seeing the show itself was incentive enough to want to participate. [shari]
“I was unfamiliar with the Monologues until a friend of mine was in the production last year,” Osters said. “I went to the show and just fell in love with the stories and the cause. I think that the main reason I decided to audition was because I really wanted to get involved with this cause, especially with some of the money going to the Congolese effort.”
Other women, like Charbeneau, were introduced to the Monologues through a women’s studies class. “I took ‘Women in the Media,’” Charbeneau said. “I had a radical male professor who just completely opened my eyes [to the Monologues]. He started reading from the Monologues every day in class. When he started to read the not so happy fact [about female genital mutilation] I remember starting to cry in class; this was the first time I had ever cried while hearing a theatre piece before. Then we started to talk about violence against women and it made me sad that this is such a common thing.” Charbeneau has been involved with the Monologues ever since.
[vagpic4] For the women who love the Vagina Monologues, the show is all about female empowerment, respecting the female body, and starting a discourse. According to Amanda Duby, an MSU alum and co-director of the Monologues, the Monologues are about unity. “I think it lets women know that they’re not alone, that maybe a lot of things that they have been concerned about and wondering about, you know, that there are a lot of other women who share in those concerns. I think overall that the show just has a message of breaking the silence and being able to talk about our vaginas, you know, talk about being a woman because for so long we weren’t able to do that.”
However while most women agree that the Vagina Monologues promotes female empowerment, not everyone agrees that “The Vagina Monologues” are the most effective way to inform people about sexual assault. “It only addresses a small portion of people, mostly theater going people and it doesn’t attract a lot of men so the message about sexual violence that they are trying to spread doesn’t always reach the right people,” psychology senior Heather Atkins said. “Most sexual crimes are committed by men and since few of them are receiving the message I don’t know if the Vagina Monologues is doing much good in that regard. However I do feel that it still spreads an important message to women about empowerment.”
As the Vagina Monologues prepare to take center stage at the Fairchild Theatre this February, both supporters of the Monologues and its critics will have to agree to disagree on the effectiveness of this provocative production’s method of ending sexual violence. Whatever one’s opinion about the show itself is, it cannot be denied that this cast and its directors are going to make an important impact on the MSU Sexual Assault Program this spring.
Whether you are comfortable discussing your sexuality and screaming “vagina” at the top of your lungs like Charbeneau, or you feel that such a theatrical discussion of sexual violence does not get to the right people, in the end, the monologues have made you think critically about its subject. If the show has affected you, if it has attached an emotional feeling to an otherwise ignored or forgotten issue, then the play has done its job. So enlighten yourselves, have an opinion, and go see “The Vagina Monologues.”
The MSU Sexual Assault Program is located in room 14 of the Student Services Building. Their 24-hour sexual assault hotline number is 517-372-6666.