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ISSUE 117 VOL 13 PUBLISHED 3/12/2004

Opening up about Vaginas: Monologues call for more dialogue concerning sexuality

By Christian Huebner
Contributing Writer

Friday, March 12, 2004

"Pussies unite!"

"[My vagina is] pissed off!"

These were the sounds of the cast of the 2004 St. Olaf production of the Vagina Monologues" warming up in the Pause for their Saturday performance. Decked out in black, red and pink, the all-female cast formed a semi-circle in the darkened theater, each woman shouting a line from the monologues, a motivating tidbit, or something related to their vaginas. Anything about vaginas.

"Viva la vulva!"

"My short skirt is my defiance!"

For these women, it was an appropriate theme to have on the brain. Over the next two hours, they would use the word "vagina" over a hundred times.

There was no escaping vaginas in this show. The full-house crowd passed by tables hawking chocolate vaginas, cunt buttons and t-shirts proclaiming, "Theres a revolution in my pants." They received programs featuring diagrams of female genitalia. But first, they were entertained by the pre-show "GuerrillaTroupe."

"Our job is just to entertain people, to spread the vagina love, get into the vagina spirit," said Chris Clark 05, a member of the troupe.

Tom Brown 05, another member who wore a giant foam vulva for the groups sketches, said of his costume: "Its quite warm, quite loving & [but] you can scare the hell out of some people."

The doors opened and people entered, almost completely silent. Some exchanged nervous laughter as they took their seats. The Troupe went to work. They led the crowd in a warm-up chant: "Go vaginas, go, go, vaginas!" they shouted. The crowd was tentative, but with more giggling, began chanting the "v-word" back.

Director Annie Westmoreland 04 appeared onstage to introduce two staff members from the Rice County Hope Center.

The proceeds from this years production will benefit the facility that provides support and refuge for women and children in abusive situations. The cause is one of great importance to many involved in the production.

Cast member Annie Olson 04 said, "When Im sitting onstage, I look out at the audience and think, every one of these seats is $5 [for the H.O.P.E. Center].'"

Mary Schmidt 04, the shows producer, noted that there was a 25 percent cut in federal funding for the Center this year. "The money barely makes a dent," Schmidt said, "but it does make a difference."

The cast filed onstage and the show unfolded, story by story: pubic hair; a woman who hadnt looked at her vagina in 50 years; the right to wear short skirts; memories of first menstruations; wartime gang-rape; trips to the gynecologist; spousal abuse on Indian Reservations; orgasmic moaning; the birth of a granddaughter. All of it came back to vaginas.

"[My clitoris] was me, the essence of me."

"I love vaginas. I love women. I dont see them as separate things."

Is the vagina really the "locus" and "reason" of a woman as the show suggests? Perhaps not entirely, replied cast members, but the vagina does hold special province in a womans self-identity. "Its a lot more than a finger or a hand," said Kara Fisher 04. "Its a symbol [of female identity]," said Eleni Pinnow 04.

Even so, it was impossible to ignore some level of discomfort surrounding the Vagina Monologues, even within the cast. Schmidt still agonizes over "The Little Coochi Snorcher That Could," a monologue about an abused 16-year-old who finds sexual salvation in a 24-year-old woman  an act of statutory rape. "If they say they werent raped, then theyre not," Schmidt said, but admitted, "thats a really, really hard one for me."

Cast member Elsa Marty 07 said she was nervous about her parents seeing the show. Still, she said, the "Vagina Monologues" is "trying to tell many womens stories; its good that they make me uncomfortable. By not talking about it, [the stories] arent going to go away." Marty also empathized with the concern she has heard from students who believe sex should be saved for marriage  shes one of them  and fear the show promotes promiscuity. However, she said, "its important to think about these things to understand why youre waiting."

More than anything, said those involved with the production, the Vagina Monologues" is about supporting a worthy cause and opening dialogue about womens  and mens  sexuality.

As the show closed and the crowd filed out, it was clear that the dialogue had begun.

"That was awesome!"

"Oh my God, I thought my dad was going to die!"

The silence had been transformed into laughter, some wet eyes, and plenty of conversation about vaginas. Barb Olson of Oakdale, Minn., mother of Annie Olson, saw this as a good thing. "Its a show about women," Barb said, "and sexuality is a part of life."

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