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Vagina Monologues’ move off to church

Kate Antonacci | Monday, February 26, 2007

After a period of uncertainty and numerous discussions about sponsorship, organizers of this year’s “Vagina Monologues” have decided to hold the show off-campus at the First Unitarian Church – a place organizers call the “perfect solution to an imperfect situation.”

“Basically we’re just really focusing on the production this year, which is completely unaffiliated with the University,” said “Monologues” organizer Michelle Lewis.

Organizers chose the venue – which is on North Shore Drive and within walking distance of the University – less than a week ago after narrowing the choice down a couple of options.

“It’s not a huge space but it’s really close to campus,” Lewis said of the Christian Church. “It’s a room … where they have services. People will be sitting in some pews, some in pulled out chairs.”

This year’s performance comes nearly one year after the sexually explicit play caused a storm of controversy and weeks of academic freedom debate on campus – and after University President Father John Jenkins questioned the consistency of the play’s message with the Catholic character of Notre Dame.

Though the play has been performed on campus for six consecutive years as part of the anti-violence against women V-Day campaign, this year’s organizers were unable to solidify an academic sponsor and therefore took the performance off-campus.

The reasons behind that lack of sponsorship aren’t clear.

Last year, Jenkins said events sponsored by the University or one of its units – including academic departments – that are deemed to conflict or appear to conflict with Catholic values “should not be allowed at Notre Dame.” But ultimately, Jenkins said though the “Monologues” would not be prohibited on campus, they should be subjected to an approval process every year, just like any other campus event.

This was a process that Lewis and the other organizers could not successfully complete in time. Lewis said the organizers focused on contacting the two departments that sponsored the “Monologues” last year – Sociology and English – and contacted some other “smaller departments.”

Linnie Caye, the Gender Studies department’s administrative assistant, who said she could not speak for the department or for chair Eileen Hunt-Botting, said Gender Studies not sponsoring “Vagina Monologues” wasn’t a matter of the department not supporting the show.

Instead, she said, “we had to make a choice as far as money was concerned.”

“We’re only a program, we’re not a department,” Caye said. “We don’t have the funds that departments have.”

Caye said at the time Gender Studies was asked to sponsor “Loyal Daughters,” organizers didn’t even know if students would produce “Vagina Monologues.”

Organizers decided which departments to contact largely based on past experience, Lewis said.

“There were a lot of departments that said ‘no’ to us last year,” Lewis said. “We really are confident we’ll be back on campus next [year], but we’ll deal on a year to year basis.”

Though conversations were started between the organizers and academic departments, Lewis said they didn’t want to “sit around waiting if the reception wasn’t going to be there.”

Peter Holland, chair of Film, Television and Theatre, said his department was not contacted over the question of sponsorship for Vagina Monologues this year.

Though Lewis said previously that an agreement was reached to have the Sociology department sponsor the “Monologues” every other year, department chair Daniel Myers said no such arrangement was voted on by his department.

The Observer was unable to reach Katherine O’Brien O’Keeffe, chair of the English Department.

Lewis said she felt the campus didn’t “want a ton of debate,” and organizers wanted to go ahead with rehearsals and planning off-campus instead of causing a dispute of the magnitude of last year’s.

“We’re not trying to pressure people and be in their face,” she said.

Though organizers met with Myers last week, he said sponsorship wasn’t really discussed at their Monday meeting.

“We didn’t really talk about that, as much as we talked about other events that could occur this spring and what the place of ‘Loyal Daughters’ would be in the mix of things,” he said. “When we sponsor something, we vote on it. In terms of the general purpose and conduct or whatever, the production of ‘Loyal Daughters,’ it’s certainly sociologically relevant.”

Without official sponsorship, organizers were not allowed to advertise on-campus.

“For on-campus students, our best form of advertising has turned out to be Facebook. It’s turned out to be a really great tool for us,” Lewis said, adding that signs will be posted at the YWCA and other popular locations like Panera Bread Co. and Lula’s Café.

One of the pluses of the location – which holds about 110 people – is that it was donated, meaning that the only costs will be for programs and “whatever prop or setting we decide to have per monologue,” Lewis said.

Lewis was quick to say, however, that the group – which will be charging $5 for tickets – will donate the proceeds to the YWCA, which she said helps the group better fulfill the mission of the V-Day campaign than it did when the show was on campus and funds could not be raised.

“Now we’re able to take it out into the community and will be donating 90 percent of the profits to the YWCA,” Lewis said, adding that the remaining 10 percent will be given to the V-Day project.

Performances will be held Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of this week at 7 p.m