The crowd roared with laughter as performers twisted about on stage and moaned—the “diva moan,” the “tortured zen moan,” and last but not least, the “triple orgasm moan”—during The Vagina Monologues performed by students from this university Friday night.

It was a show of hilarity and horror.

Each piece in The Vagina Monologues is a real interview collected and carefully edited by playwright Eve Ensler. The subject matter ranges from self-discovery and accidental orgasms at the gym to genital mutilation and the metaphorical transformation of the female body into a warzone.

By performing these monologues, the actresses were a vessel to raise unheard voices. It was clear the performers were aware each word they said on stage were words from real interviews conducted with sex workers, rape victims and vagina workshop participants.

[Left to right] Sierra Decker (Senior, Community Health major), Pegah Maleki (UMD student), Erin Kemp (Junior, Animal Science major), Amber Ebanks (Junior, Multiplatfor Journalism/Latino Studies major), Dani Gisselbeck (Senior, Romance Language major), Brittany Hamson (Senior, Criminology & Criminal Justice/Women's Studies major). All sitting on a panel following their production of the Vagina Monologues. (Joe Duffy/Bloc Reporter)
[Left to right] Sierra Decker (Senior, Community Health major), Pegah Maleki (UMD student), Erin Kemp (Junior, Animal Science major), Amber Ebanks (Junior, Multiplatfor Journalism/Latino Studies major), Dani Gisselbeck (Senior, Romance Language major), Brittany Hamson (Senior, Criminology & Criminal Justice/Women’s Studies major). All sitting on a panel following their production of the Vagina Monologues. (Joe Duffy/Bloc Reporter)
The show has different themes every year. Last year, for example, it seemed more humorous, while this year’s focus was on ending sexual violence. There are many monologues for the directors to choose from, and this bastion of interviews is ever changing.

Ensler still accepts submissions, so even though the first productions ran in 1996, modern voices are still heard. The last piece of the performance, “Words” performed by Dani Gisselbeck, is an example of this. It expressed the multiplicity of identity and examined bisexuality and genderqueer identities.

One monologue, performed by junior multiplatform journalism major Amber Ebanks, was from a woman who was raped by a man who had “all the charisma that is a knife.” Horrifying pieces such as these alternated with those of empowerment and humor.

All proceeds from the show go to the Victims Assistance Fund at the CARE to Stop Violence office on campus. CARE is a resource and platform for students to learn how to confront and overcome trauma from sexual violence, relationship violence and stalking.

Sarah Schurman (sophomore, English major) fielding questions in a post-discussion panel. (Joe Duffy/Bloc Reporter)
Sarah Schurman (sophomore, English major) fielding questions in a post-discussion panel. (Joe Duffy/Bloc Reporter)

It is evident that, though the play is meant to inform the audience, it drastically changes the lives of the performers. Briana Downs, a vocal performance and English major, performed the piece titled “The Little Coochi Snorcher That Could” about the emotional aftermath of sexual violence and the long process of learning how to be touched again.

“I was the shiest person when it came to sex,” Downs said. “I’m still a virgin and I was like ‘how am I going to talk about sex if I’ve never experienced it?’“

Downs said she used to blush at the mention of sex and worried about being on stage shouting about her clitoris. She said she auditioned for the Vagina Monologues because she wanted to feel liberated.

When she had doubts about whether or not she could portray her character, she said she sought refuge in the reality of the voice she was carrying. She told herself: “You are their voice. You are that woman’s voice out there. She’s been raped and she feels like she can’t tell people … you speak out for her. Inspire her.”

Downs said she now feels like she can champion sex positivity and not be afraid to talk about it.

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Ceaira Thomas (Senior, Economics) having quite a bit of fun performing her piece “The Woman Who Loved to Make Vaginas Happy.” (Joe Duffy/Bloc Reporter)

Lucy Harrelson, a senior society and environmental issues major, was inspired to be more in touch with her sexuality. She said once she started practicing her script, she made a pact with her friend that they would try to masturbate every day.

Why is it important to be open about female sexuality?

One possible answer was posed after the performance when the actresses were all sitting on stage answering questions from the audience during a “talk back.” The talk wandered to the possibility that open discussion about female sexuality creates a safer world for women. When it is easier for a woman to talk about her body, it is easier for her to own and value it.

Featured Photo Credit: Sierra Decker (Senior, Community Health major) embodying the strength, frustration and aggression behind her piece “My Angry Vagina.” (Joe Duffy/Bloc Reporter)

WritersBloc_Headshots_22Raye Weigel is a sophomore multiplatform journalism and English major and may be reached at rayanneweigel@gmail.com

 

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