Vaginas. We do not talk about them enough nowadays, and in fact a lot of people do not like talking about them at all, whether specifically about vaginas or about people in possession of them. Vaginas are an intrinsic part of life, and this is something Eve Ensler deals with in her collection of monologues inspired by interviews with hundreds of women, appropriately named The Vagina Monologues ? each one dealing with a different aspect of life with a vagina. Some are concerned with sexuality, or rape, or luxury products ? sorry, tampons, or pretty much anything you can think of that would concern a vagina; even boldly reclaiming a slang word for vagina. Nowadays the discussion of vaginas is even more pertinent, in a world that protests the limits on rights to abortion, or menstrual products etc., and is responsible for inequality if you have made the unavoidable mistake of possessing the wrong sexual organ.
This year the responsibility of bringing The Vagina Monologues to St Andrews falls to play co?ordinator and theatre officer for the Feminist Society Melissa Jones and director Ryan Hay, who sat down with me alongside performer Marija Zacharova to discuss this ground? breaking work.
CP: What do the Vagina Monologues mean to you, and what drew you to them?
MJ: I have an interest in theatre and drama, and the Feminist Society had a vacancy for a theatre officer so I stood for the position and was voted onto the committee. I had heard in the past these rumours about this fantastic production of The Vagina Monologues that happened in St Andrews a few years ago and I thought to myself, ‘maybe I should bring it back!’ because people were always talking about it, so I asked and the Feminist Society said ‘if you want to bring it back then go for it.’ I had no idea what this production was like but they handed it over to me and told me to find a production team if I wanted to make it happen. To me, The Vagina Monologues are so important because they are about the vagina which is a thing no-one really seems to talk about. Vaginas are so important to women but we seem to just skirt over them and laugh, so you can find all these articles on Facebook like ‘10 things you must know about your vagina!’ But when you hear The Vagina Monologues you find something you can relate to, it is so different when they are said aloud and you just hear stuff that gives you such a feeling of ‘yes! I relate to that!’
CP: What do the Vagina Monologues mean to St Andrews and to the feminist presence here?
MJ: I think because it is a production that is so influential people are still talking about it years on, it is something we really needed to bring back to St Andrews. The Feminist Society are doing a lot of intersectionality work at the moment and I thought if they were going to give a dramatic work back to St Andrews, The Vagina Monologues was the thing to bring back; it is a play that empowers women, it is about the vagina. It is important to have them in St Andrews because hopefully we will have a mixed audience and the men in the audience will hear them and think, ‘Is that what it is like for a woman?’ and the women will think, ‘Yes! That is exactly what it is!’ The Vagina Monologues are empowering, educational and fantastic, and I picked a production team of men and women so that everyone could get involved and discover and learn and be creative.
CP: What is your favourite monologue being performed this year?
RH: Probably my favourite overall is ‘The Flood’. The author interviewed a lady of a certain age about her vagina and her response was to do with the fact that she had this one kind of sexual encounter and then just shut off, forever, and she is really resistant to talking about it. Really it is sort of a metaphor for how the play came about at all because people are initially resistant to talking about these issues but once they open up about it they feel great, so I love that journey that happens in this monologue.
MZ: My favourite monologue is probably ‘Hair’, which discusses the opinion of both men and women that pubic hair is disgusting, unfeminine and needs to be gotten rid of. I think that whilst many of the monologues in the play are very shocking and traumatic in certain ways, this one is more relatable for women, it is a more common thing that is described in it. It also touches upon subtle emotional domestic abuse, which is a theme that interests me deeply.
MJ: The monologues are timeless, so the one about hair was written in the ’90s but it is still an issue being discussed nowadays ? the sexualisation of young girls and shaving. It makes you childlike, so why are some men still looking for that childlike nature of the vagina? In my opinion it does not make sense, so this monologue is very important to me.
CP: Do you think we should be more open about talking about vaginas in today’s society?
MJ, RH, MZ: Yes.
MJ: So St Andrews sometimes has a reputation of being very closed of with a very stiff upper lip, so this is us saying ‘no, we are going to do something exciting.’
RH: I think this is a good way to do it as well, because it is not the sort of thing that one can just bring up, so it provides a platform. Hopefully people will leave the production and go into the Union main bar and chat about the issues brought up.
CP: What are your personal opinions towards the fact that being in possession of a vagina can sometimes limit your opportunities to an extent?
RH: I do not think I am qualified to speak on this one.
MZ: I think it is important to admit it to start with because people get very defensive about it, that is first step towards eliminating these kinds of issues! Yes, it is true, but if you are not part of the solution you are part of the problem, I suppose. I guess that is the most difficult step for many people, is admitting it.
MJ: I am still making friends with my vagina, I am still learning what it is about and what it entails so this play is one step along the way of finding out what my vagina is about.
CP: Is it scary to be directing a piece that has had such a big influence worldwide? What do you want your message to be? (directors)
RH: It is actually not that scary, because we have got a nice diverse cast of women who have all been really helpful to work with so there is nothing scary about it at all, it is really nice. As for message, well there is that famous quote about the play being ‘the most important piece of political theatre of our generation’. [The actual quote is from Charles Isherwood of the New York Times who said the play was “probably the most important piece of political theater of the last decade.”] I think just having that put up in the Union, in the centre of student life here, is a message in itself. It is about talking about it and I just want people to leave and be able to start a conversation because it is not the kind of conversation people can have every day.
CP: What is your favourite aspect of your monologue and do you believe it has the potential to change people’s views?
MZ: In fact, my monologue is the last one, ‘The Revolution Begins in the Body’, and to some extent it puts some pressure on me because it is the one summarising all the monologues which have been performed before. It is very powerful and I really like it and I feel very honoured that I have been assigned to do this one. I am pretty sure if people take anything out of the whole performance it is going to be reflected in the monologue I am reading which is a nice feeling, but a slightly terrifying one as well.
CP: All in all, do you think the audience will come away having changed their opinions on vaginas?
RH: I think everyone who comes will learn something.
The Vagina Monologues is an exciting, wildly defiant and beautiful project and I believe it is in completely capable hands this year. If you would like to see it, it goes up in The Union (Stage) on the 14th and 15th of February, tickets are £3 and can be purchased on the door or reserved by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. All proceeds from tickets are being donated to the Edinburgh Rape Crisis Centre.