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Monologues’ returns to campus

Mary Kate Malone | Wednesday, February 6, 2008

After being held at an off-campus location in 2007, “The Vagina Monologues” will be performed in a DeBartolo classroom at Notre Dame from March 26-28.

Organizers tailored the production to fit specific guidelines set forth by University President Father John Jenkins – who, after speaking with students and faculty for 10 weeks in 2006 – decided not to prohibit the sexually explicit Eve Ensler play at Notre Dame.

His guidelines, which he delivered in April 2006, entrust academic departments with deciding what events should and should not be sponsored, and they emphasize the need for multiple viewpoints on controversial topics.

As a result, each performance of the “Monologues” will be followed by an academic panel discussion that will approach the play from different intellectual perspectives.

“We used those [guidelines] and sat down and considered, ‘How can we make this event fulfill this criteria?'” said senior Lisa Rauh, one of the play’s lead organizers.

“The Vagina Monologues” was first performed at Notre Dame in 2002. More than 600 colleges and universities stage the production during the months of January, February and March as part of the worldwide V-Day campaign, which aims to raise awareness about sexual violence against women.

Jenkins questioned the presence of the production at Notre Dame in a series of speeches after the play had been performed as a theatrical event on campus for four consecutive years. Ten weeks of discussions about sponsorship, endorsement, academic freedom and Catholic character followed his address, culminating in his decision to allow the “Monologues” at Notre Dame. That year, the play was performed in DeBartolo 101 and was followed by academic panels each night.

But last year, organizers failed to find a department to sponsor the production and held the “Monologues” at South Bend’s First Unitarian Church. This was due to hurried planning – not faculty or department unease, Rauh said.

The sociology and anthropology departments are co-sponsoring the 2008 “Monologues.” Faculty members in both departments agreed to do so unanimously, according to Mark Schurr, chair of the anthropology department, and Rory McVeigh, chair of the sociology department.

The academic panel schedule is still being finalized, Rauh said. The first panel is scheduled to present a theological perspective on the play, and the second panel will study the play from sociological and anthropological standpoints.

The final panel will most likely examine how the “Monologues” can help victims of sexual violence heal and move forward – a topic “that has never been included” in panel discussions in the past, Rauh said. “I think that’s an aspect of the play that is really important.”

The panel for the psychological discussion will include psychology experts who study performance and music “as a part of the healing process,” Rauh said. Some – but not all – of the play’s performers are victims of sexual violence or know individuals who have been, Rauh said.

In pairs, Rauh and other lead organizers of “The Vagina Monologues” presented their proposal for the play’s production to various departments in the College of Arts and Letters.

“The girls have done a fantastic job. … They came forward with a very responsible proposal that really focused on this play as an intellectual event from several different perspectives,” Schurr said. “For [the anthropology department], the interest was that they had one panel specifically directed toward social science approaches.”

Schurr has not noticed discussion among faculty members regarding the “Monologues” – a signal, he said, that Jenkins’ final decision regarding the production was well received.

“You could put any play on in the DPAC, and if it was just a play by itself it would be entertainment,” he said. “But if it was engaged … talked about by professors, used as a course assignment … it becomes an intellectual event. It’s up to the students and faculty to look for the intellectual content in life. That’s one of the things we should be doing as a university.”

The event, though controversial, will “spark important discussions about important topics and issues that will benefit the community” especially with the inclusion of different academic perspectives, McVeigh said.

Students participating in the V-Day campaign are asked to fulfill two criteria in order to perform the “Monologues” on their campus: It must be performed on campus and raise money for local anti-violence organizations.

The Notre Dame production has been granted an exception for not fulfilling those criteria. Jenkins’ decision prohibited such events from raising money on campus. Rauh is still finalizing which DeBartolo classroom the play will be performed in.

“The Vagina Monologues” has a purpose and place at Notre Dame as long as “new intellectual information can be brought to bare” every year, Schurr said.

He likened it to a production of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” or an elective course at Notre Dame – they are rarely presented annually in order to ensure that students are always engaging fresh material.

“If [the ‘Monologues’] did change every year,” he said, “I could see having it every year. If it didn’t change much, I think it would be perfectly reasonable to have it less frequently.”

Sophomore Stephanie Newsome is directing the “Monologues” this year.