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Vagina Monologues returns for fourth year

Observer Scene | Wednesday, February 16, 2005

There was a point in Notre Dame history when V-Day might have meant candy and cards.

That day is rapidly fading in memory. “The Vagina Monologues” and other events promoted by V-Day, an organization that works to stop violence against women in countries around the world, are becoming a spring tradition. Tonight’s performance of the play will mark its fourth year on campus, and interest does not yet seem to be fading.

Since its first performance the play has moved up in the Notre Dame world, from DeBartolo Hall to Washington Hall to the Stepan Center. This year the performance will be held in the Leighton Concert Hall at the DeBartolo Center for the Performing Arts, its most prestigious location to date. Student participation in the show has also grown. Skits performed by single actresses in the past, such as “My Short Skirt,” have been restructured for several performers to accommodate the number of students interested in participating in this year’s show.

This year, Notre Dame’s performance has drawn the particular attention of “Vagina Monologues” author Eve Ensler. Ensler arrives on campus today in the last visit of her college tour, which has included universities such as Yale and the University of Chicago.

Ensler will be part of a panel discussion with history professor Gail Bederman and English professor Glenn Hendler, moderated by film, television and theatre professor Jessica Chalmers. The panel will be held in the Leighton Concert Hall at 3 p.m. The author plans to participate in the performance of “The Vagina Monologues” at 7 p.m. and will be present for a book signing after the show around 9:30 p.m.

As student interest in “The Vagina Monologues” has grown, organizers have also increased their efforts to integrate other awareness-raising events promoted by V-Day with the performance. This year students from the play organized Project Black: Confronting the Silence, in which students stood in silent protest outside DeBartolo Hall and North Dining Hall in protest of violence. Students also sold T-shirts and hung posters in honor of V-Day.

Few students or administrators would argue against the goals of an organization that seeks to stop violence against women. “The Vagina Monologues” themselves, however, have not been received happily by many students and organizations on campus. As some students and organizations voice their support for the play, others protest its messages on sexual issues and its use of language and situation that is often deemed taboo.

The content can be both meaningful and difficult for the actresses in the play, who are not always cast in the skits they hoped for when they auditioned. The most controversial skits especially can be hard for some actresses to connect with and perform.

Senior Erin Clarke decided to audition for the play after seeing the performance and getting interested in the organization during her sophomore year.

“I was really interested in what the movement was about,” Clarke said. “I saw the show and decided it was a good thing.”

However, being cast in one of the play’s most controversial skits about a sexual encounter between a formerly sexually abused teenager and a 24-year-old woman was not easy.

“At first I didn’t know [about performing the skit],” Clarke said. “But the way I think about it, it’s a true story. As I’ve thought about it, it’s a positive experience.”

Other participants have found skits that speak to them more directly. Sophomore Beckie Rodriguez got involved with the play after seeing fliers and the website for an organization that spoke to her own personal experiences.

“This organization can contribute a lot, not just to society as a whole, but to Notre Dame,” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez was cast in a skit entitled “The Memory of Her Face,” which focuses on violence against women in different countries. The segments of the skits are set in Baghdad, Islamabad and the Mexican border town of Juarez. The town has lost around 300 young women in unexplained murders over past decade, and was the site for last year’s V-Day events.

Rodriguez, who lives in the southern Texas border town of Weslaco, was asked to perform the skit in last year’s show and requested it again this year. The skit focuses on a woman named Esther, who keeps a scrapbook of the women who have died.

“I’d like to say I’ve enjoyed the skit,” Rodriguez said. “Not in that it’s fun or uplifting, but because it’s important to me.”

Many actresses seem to be attracted not to particular skits and characters but to the entire goal of the play. Senior Molly Savage decided to audition for the show with her roommate, Student Body Vice President Karla Bell. Savage had seen the play for three years, and during the third performance made the decision to audition as a senior.

“There are certain things no one really talks about but every single woman can relate to,” Savage said. “The play is all about bringing all these issues to light and making people comfortable with them. Between laughing and crying, we said we absolutely had to do this.”

Savage was cast in “My Short Skirt,” a skit that asserts that a skirt, no matter how short, is not an invitation or a provocation for unwanted advances. The skit takes on a taste of reality, since the actress appears in her own very short skirt that made its first appearance at the Alumni Wake.

“I’ve felt a ton of sexism on this campus, that you are judged from the moment you come in the door,” Savage said. “My connection to the skit is that it shouldn’t matter what you wear, people need to take a little time to discover what’s inside, to discover the truth. Being a woman is so much more than wearing a short black skirt.”

As the only remaining class to witness the beginning of “The Vagina Monologues” at Notre Dame prepares to graduate, the organization is welcoming new members. Many freshmen and sophomores auditioned for this year’s performance and seem ready to carry on the torch. For better or worse, it seems “The Vagina Monologues” are here to stay.

“The Vagina Monologues” will be performed at the DeBartolo Center for the Performing Arts at 7 p.m. Tickets cost $8 for students, $10 for faculty and staff and $12 for the general public. Tickets for the panel discussion are free and available at the door.