The Vagina Monologues. The title alone conjures images of women sitting alone onstage, talking at length about their private parts in front of a black curtain.
It also conjures images of the ladies from The View discussing their own private parts on daytime television, inspiring everyday women — formerly restricted by social taboos to not discuss such things — to be suddenly liberated and talk about their private parts in social settings.
Yes, The Vagina Monologues have been widely influential — and for the better, we say — but even in 2012, 16 years after it made its Off Broadway debut, it can still evoke shudders from the uneducated. Listen men: we're talking to you.
Fortunately, it's far more interesting than you might have thought it was.
"My husband went and said, 'It's not what I thought it was going to be,' and that was awesome," says Wanda Groetelaars, director of the Howe Sound Women's Centre's (HSWC) latest production of the play.
The HSWC produces The Vagina Monologues every two years in both Whistler and Squamish — though this is the first time in four years it has been brought to Whistler (Millennium Place was booked solid in 2010 due to the Olympics.)
By no means a high-production theatre troupe, Groetelaars says the HSWC low-cost productions are perfectly in synch with the spirit of Eve Ensler's original play.
"It's not meant to be done on a super-professional, slick level. It's meant to engage people from within the community," Groetelaars says.
The play is notorious for its frank descriptions of female sexuality, utilizing humour and stark honesty to discuss some difficult subject matter — rape, masturbation, incest, female genital mutilation, among other things — that were taboos when the play debuted.
Ensler wrote the play in 1996 after interviewing 200 women. Following her initial performances, Ensler realized her play was not just a play but had articulated feelings that women felt about themselves and their sexuality in a way that had never been discussed before. It gained enormous success, with productions staged in all over the world, featuring celebrities performing the monologues. It spurred a craze in the late 90s that influenced how North American society viewed female sexuality, and how women viewed themselves.
"(It's) so brilliantly written and the stories are good enough that you don't have to have action on the stage. You're just there, you're telling the story and that's all the power that's felt, it's from the words," Groetelaars says.
"There are parts of it that are very beautiful, of course, but there are parts of it that are very dark."
The Vagina Monologues is now produced in over 140 countries and has raised over $85 million for women's rights. Originally intended as a celebration of vaginas and femininity, by 1998 it had become a movement to stop violence against women. The Vagina Monologues are now the cornerstone for the V-Day movement, which advocates and fundraises for women and children in crisis around the world.
"This just creates awareness, this play. It's happening all around the world and it's a positive way to step up there, make a statement and have a good time," Groetelaars says.
Community productions of the play take place between Feb. 1 and Apr. 30, so long as they follow Ensler's guidelines — one of which being that 10 per cent of the proceeds must be donated to a specific organization. This year, HSWC will donate their portion to the Women and Girls of Haiti. The other 90 per cent will support their new woman's outreach centre in Spring Creek.
Groetelaars says their productions have been vital to HSWC to offset provincial funding cuts to women's shelters and programs. The Vagina Monologues have helped to cover the shortfall that the woman's centre faces every year, pulling in between $7,000 and $10,000 in years past.
The Vagina Monologues was presented at Millennium Place on Thursday and a second show was staged at the Brackendale Art Gallery (BAG).