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Monologues move off ND, lack sponsor

Kate Antonacci | Thursday, February 15, 2007

Nearly one year after the sexually explicit play “Vagina Monologues” caused a storm of controversy and weeks of academic freedom debate on campus, organizers announced that this year’s show will hit the stage in early March – but, for the first time in six years, that stage will be one off campus.

“This is not the Notre Dame Monologues. This is the ‘Vagina Monologues’ performed by Notre Dame students,” said co-organizer Michelle Lewis. “It is not affiliated with the University at all.”

The reason for the move off campus is lack of sponsorship, Lewis said. After campaigning unsuccessfully to different academic departments, play organizers decided to ensure the play’s performance by taking it to a venue off University grounds.

Last year, “The Vagina Monologues” was held in an academic setting – performed in a classroom and followed up with a series of panels addressing the issue of sexuality. The panel came as part of an effort to address rising concerns of members of the Notre Dame community – including University President Father John Jenkins – who questioned the consistency of the play’s message with the Catholic character of the University.

“We assumed these roles this year knowing that sponsorship wasn’t guaranteed, and are dedicated to the cause and the play regardless,” Lewis said.

Jenkins said last year that 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.”

On April 5 of last year, Jenkins ultimately decided that the “Vagina Monologues” would not be prohibited on campus, but would undergo an approval process every year, just like any other campus performance.

And the process was one that Lewis, co-organizer Lisa Rauh and director Sarah Muscarella could not successfully complete this year. They tried “a lot of departments,” but got a lot of “no’s” and a lot of “no responses.”

Though the sociology department has sponsored the Monologues in the past years, this year it said it did not want to sponsor the event every year. Lewis said the department agreed to sponsor the play every other year – which ensures that a performance will take place on campus next year.

As per Jenkins’ decision, academic departments were given the ability last year to “decide what events should or should not be sponsored,” as well as the responsibility to point out that sponsorship of an event does not imply endorsement.

Organizers are looking into “a couple different options” for a venue, Lewis said, declining to name some of the local places she has been in contact with.

The group is now left to raise its own funds to cover the cost of the venue and programs. Lewis was quick to say, however, that the group – who will now be charging for tickets – will donate all of the proceeds to the YWCA.

“Half of the goal is to raise awareness but also to raise money and give it to women who actually need it,” Lewis said. “It was good to have it on campus last year, but it was kind of disappointing that we couldn’t raise money. And now we’re able to take it out into the community.”

Three audition sessions were held nearly two weeks ago, and a cast of “about 25 women” was chosen, despite the fact that sponsorship was not confirmed.

“We’re very happy with the 2007 cast, and the breadth of talent allowed us to cast appropriately – a very diverse group of girls with different backgrounds auditioned,” Lewis said.

But without official sponsorship, organizers were not allowed to advertise. Instead, Lewis and the other organizers started a group on Facebook.com and sent “a lot of e-mails.”

Since V-day is February 14th, the play – as originally created by Eve Ensler – is intended to be performed as close to that date as possible in order to pair the play with the message of awareness about violence against women, Lewis said.

“We needed to go ahead with auditions and play preparations while simultaneously working to get sponsorship,” Lewis said.

Lewis said that, because of the performances of “Loyal Daughters” in the fall and the uncertainty of whether the Monologues would be performed, organizers “kind of got off to a late start.”

Still, despite the slow start and the lack of sponsorship, Lewis said the Monologues have a very important place on the Notre Dame campus.

“This is a global movement – performing this play makes Notre Dame a part of this global community, bringing discussion and awareness about issues such as violence against women and gender equality which are universal concerns,” Lewis said. “The play changes every year to accommodate and address new pertinent issues as experienced by different women.”

Despite last year’s controversy, Lewis said that all the “dialogue we had with anybody from the University was initiated by us.”

Though the play had been performed on campus for five consecutive years as part of the anti-violence against women V-Day campaign, last year Jenkins criticized the “graphic” ways the play attempted to achieve its goals.

Jenkins outlined his concerns last year in addresses to faculty members and to students. He questioned the University’s sponsorship of certain events in light of Catholic teaching and asked for continued dialogue on the issue before a formal policy announcement.