This weekend, Bowdoin’s V-Day continues an annual tradition with its production of the “Vagina Monologues” to benefit Sexual Support Services of Midcoast Maine.
Co-directors Callie Ferguson ’15 and Xanthe Demas ’15 will lead a group of about 50 female students in a dramatic reading of Eve Ensler’s iconic narrative this Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. in Kresge Auditorium.
The script is a set of monologues about women’s relationships with their vaginas. They range from intensely emotional to plainly comic.
Bowdoin V-Day is a chapter of a global organization started by Ensler to prevent violence against women and girls. Each year the club receives the script from the global campaign, and this year’s includes a poem by Ensler that has never before been performed.
The show is opening on Valentine’s Day this year. Janki Kaneria ’14, one of the leaders of V-Day, says this was not deliberate but has worked to the show’s benefit.
“I think Valentine’s Day is one of those days that—as fun as it is—is sort of centered around a gender hierarchy,” said Kaneria. “We thought it’d be kind of fun to do a kind of feminist event.”
The passage of the Campus Save Act legislation last march, which V-Day supported, includes laws that require higher education institutions to educate students, faculty and staff about sexual assualt prevention.
For many of the performers, it was the spirit of activism that drew them to the production.
“I have this group of really close friends, and we all went into college, and by the end of our freshman year, out of the 10 girlfriends, three of them had been sexually assaulted,” said Marcella Jimenez ’16. “The piece for me that was really important was to stand up and raise awareness.”
According to Ferguson, the issues discussed in the monologues are uniquely relevant to college students.
“This is a point in time when people are ex-teenagers and pre-adults, so there are a lot of remaining insecurities from growing up and coming into their adult selves,” said Ferguson.
She also finds that the female-centric production is empowering.
“The idea of dispelling myths and creating a more casual, comfortable conversation around women’s issues and vagina issues is really significant to women who watch it and women who are in the show,” said Ferguson.
V-Day members emphasized that the performance can still be an educational and relatable experience for men in the audience.
“This is a good way to break those barriers and start a conversation between men and women about these things—start a public discourse,” said Jimenez.
Although some of the situations presented in the monologues are not necessarily those experienced by a typical Bowdoin student, all the stories bring out an emotional response, says Jimenez. “There are some that are like you don’t really see what’s happening, but I can appreciate that woman’s story, and there are some that are like, yes, that’s it. It’s a range.”
On a small campus like Bowdoin, the audience’s personal connection to the actresses can make the play’s message even more effective.
“When you see that girl in your history class or you see that girl who runs next to you in the gym perform these monologues, you get the sense that it’s automatically grounded at Bowdoin in a way it wouldn’t be if you saw 30 women perform it at a community theater,” said Kaneria.
The production this year is larger than in previous years.
“Having an enormous amount of women on the stage is a really visually powerful spectacle and increases the weight of the words,” said Ferguson.
Most of the cast members do not have previous acting experience and are simply interested in the issues related to the monologues.
This year’s performance will also see the reintroduction of the Vagina Warrior recognition, which is awarded to one male and one female faculty or staff member that have advanced women’s causes on campus. The recipients this year are English Professor Peter Coviello and Women’s Rugby Head Coach Mary Beth Matthews.
As one of V-Day’s biggest events of the year, the Vagina Monologues is meant to start a dialogue. After Friday night’s performance, the club will hold a reception to continue discussion of the ideas presented in the play.
“Larger cultural change takes a while to happen,” said Kaneria. “One of the things we hope for is we want people to reflect on what they’ve seen and what they’ve heard.”
Besides promoting the activist mission of V-Day, the leaders of the production hope to change the way people talk about female sexuality in daily conversation.
“I hope that people become more comfortable with the word ‘vagina’—literally the language surrounding it,” said Ferguson. “Men, yes, but especially women. I hope that people feel more comfortable with themselves and that they feel connected to a larger narrative.”