Most students at RIT don’t have vaginas. It is simply fact. And although very few students have the opportunity to be around these awesome body parts, all members of the student body seem to care about them. Students have many ways that they have shown their interest in such anatomy but one of the more empathetic ways has been through their support for “The Vagina Monologues” this past Sunday.
As a woman, playwright Eve Ensler was also very interested in this body part and especially the people who were attached to them which lead her to conduct interviews with dozens of women regarding their lady parts. In doing so, she heard a lot about woman’s experiences with abuse, sexuality and societal perceptions of these topics. In 1994, she who wrote “The Vagina Monologues”, a play based off her interviews.
When “The Vagina Monologues” started being performed, Ensler was able to see what an amazing impact each performance had on her audience and realized that her play could serve not only as a piece of theater, but as a method for raising awareness about sexual violence and calling people to action.
On the Valentine’s Day of 1998, Ensler established V-Day, an activists’ movement that raises awareness about violent acts against women and donations to help tend to the victims of such acts. At their first show, they raised $250,000. Since then, every year from February to April, Ensler allows groups from all over to perform her play so they too can raise money for the effort to end sexual violence and abuse.
In the 14 years since that first show, the Vagina Monologues has been shown in 140 countries around the world and has raised over $85 million. And for the past 12 years, RIT has contributed to the money raised by putting on productions of the play here as well.
Throughout those years, the performances at RIT have evolved and their influence within the community, both at RIT and in Rochester as a whole, has grown. Performer and RIT alum Annemarie Ross recalled, “When I was a student here, we would host it here with one deaf and one voice performer on the stage performing simultaneously. That was around when the show first came out back around 2002.”
Since that performance Ross has remained involved with the performances as one of the deaf performers, and in her time volunteering to make sure that these women’s stories are heard, she has seen the show’s influence grow. “The Monologues has grown in its outreach and respect from the public,” states Ross. “After the show, I hear my friends talking about how the monologues have inspired them and will remain in their hearts.”
For the first time this year, RIT’s performance is partnering with sexual and reproductive healthcare provider Planned Parenthood both with the goal to raise awareness of violence and abuse, raise funds for programs to help prevent it and to heal those who have suffered. They also hope to get people more involved in cause. Planned Parenthood has served as a very good partner; they helped pay for the publicity and the rehearsal space and have helped to expand the performance’s influence to the Rochester community outside of RIT as well.
In addition to a growing audience, the show itself has also grown. For this past performance, Ross performed with not just one other performer, but with many actresses including some that act professionally, some from the community, and even two current students from RIT. Tapiwa Chikuku, a second year Accounting major, made her debut in the monologues as a deaf performer this past Sunday and she hopes that next year more students will do the same.
Chikuku and Ross joined the cast of “The Vagina Monologues” in for similar reasons. “I’ve always enjoyed acting as a hobby and they needed deaf performers as well,” says Ross, “The timing just seemed to fit.” Chikuku also had some past acting experience from high school and was happy to put it to use again especially for such an important cause. “As a woman, I wanted to show my support for other women until the violence stops,” says Chikuku. Becoming one of the performers in the play provided an amazing opportunity to do just that.
Ross and Chikuku along with the other 29 actresses have been practicing for the performance since January. “It was fun to watch our characters develop over time,” says Ross, “It was a chance to make lifelong friends.”
These women met every Saturday morning at the Planned Parenthood 20 minutes off campus in addition to taking their own time to memorize lines and prepare and, in their performance on Sunday, the time and effort that they had invested in the play was obvious from the tremendous impact on its audience.
The play consisted purely of stories that relate to vaginas and therefore captured everyone’s interest. It makes apparent that, even on a college campus full of sex obsessed students, people rarely talk about vaginas in depth. Some of the monologues were funny, some were purely entertaining, some were somber, and some were extraordinarily powerful. For each monologue, the audience responded accordingly laughing, thinking, or just listening. And at the end of the show, the audience again responded appropriately by standing to give a thunderous applause to all those involved and to show their support for such a worthy cause.
Even with RIT’s lack of vaginas, the message of the monologues has thrived. Whether it is a friend, a teacher, a girlfriend, or their mom, every student knows and cares about someone who is female and no one wants to see these women abused. “The Vagina Monologues” and V-day are working to keep the abuse from happening and to help those with the misfortune of experiencing it. It is important that RIT continues to provide them and the women they help with support.
If you would still like to attend the Vagina Monologues, the same actresses will be performing on Saturday, April 21, 7:30pm at Performance Hall of the Hochstein School of Music and Dance.