How many times a day do you use the word "vagina"?

Probably not that many. It is exactly this social milieu of discomfort and unawareness that Eve Ensler set out to address 12 years ago with her creation of "The Vagina Monologues," which will be performed tonight and Saturday at Bowdoin.

Anticipation of this year's performance of "The Vagina Monologues" is particularly high as it coincides with Ensler's visit to Bowdoin today for a Common Hour lecture.

The lecture is scheduled for 12:30 p.m. in Pickard Theater, Memorial Hall.

In 1996, Ensler wrote and staged her first performance, marking the initiation of her modern global movement to bring an end to violence against women and girls.

While the vagina emerges as the recurring theme throughout the "Monologues," the performance is not, in fact, an anatomical exploration of women. Rather, Ensler uses the vagina as a tool through which she explores all aspects of womanhood. While she includes lighthearted, comical vignettes, much of her play is devoted to unearthing the stories of women targeted by sexual violence, including rape, mutilation, and other atrocities, which often go unnoticed by society.

By sharing these stories, "The Vagina Monologues" aims to spread global awareness, demand an end to the violence, and catalyze an activist response.

Following "The Vagina Monologues'" success, Ensler began the V-Day global organization to aid the movement against sexual violence. Since it premiered, "The Vagina Monologues" has outgrown its New York roots and become a global phenomenon. The play has been translated into 45 languages and is performed in theatres worldwide.

Bowdoin's campus has not been left untouched. Bowdoin has developed its own branch of V-Day, which has grown immensely in the past two years. V-Day's main event is the student production of "The Vagina Monologues." In preparation for this weekend's student-run production, directors and cast members have been hard at work for the past six weeks.

For those who have not seen "The Vagina Monologues," this show differs from other theatrical performances in a variety of ways. Most notably, there is not a trace of fiction in Ensler's production. The show is composed entirely of real interviews from real women.

"There is nothing fictional about it," said senior Ali Draudt. "Really, it is much more moving emotionally than anything that could ever be put together fictionally."

To emphasize this reality, performers use note cards throughout the show. Each performer is required to use this device, not as a memory aid, but rather to remind the audience that these monologues are not performed stories but honest, real life accounts.

"Performers in 'The Vagina Monologues' are not actors in the traditional sense, but really vessels through which other women tell their stories," Draudt said.

The show attempts to change world views and promote positive action, rather than evoke a solely sympathetic response.

"The Vagina Monologues" is meant "to move you into action," said Draudt, "not to move you simply into sorrow."

"The Vagina Monologues" will be performed tonight at 7:30 p.m. in Pickard Theater and on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. in Kresge Auditorium, Visual Arts Center.

Tickets are $15 for the general public and $5 with a student/faculty/staff ID and are available at the Smith Union info desk.