The Women’s Ensemble Theater Troupe of University of California, Santa Barbara performed the Vagina Monologues and HerStories show in Campbell Hall on Feb. 27 and 28. They abandoned normal social conventions to candidly convey uncensored truths about the vagina and the female experience. The wildly diverse gathering of women’s voices delivered powerful and heart-wrenching narratives to a riveted audience, raising awareness and opening up dialogue about the part of the female body that is uncomfortably avoided in discussion and remains both physically and metaphorically hidden.
The first half of the performance compromised of the Vagina Monologues, an episodic play written and originally performed by Eve Ensler in 1996, which has now become an annual international event. The 13 monologues were written after Ensler interviewed over 200 women, and they each depict an aspect of the feminine experience, such as rape, menstruation, birth, orgasm, sex, and masturbation.
“I was worried what we think about vaginas, and I was even more worried that we don’t think about them,” Ensler wrote in her original script. “I was worried about my own vagina. It needed a context, a community, a culture of other vaginas. There is so much darkness and secrecy surrounding them, like the Bermuda Triangle, nobody ever reports back from there.”
The Women’s Ensemble Theater Troupe has effectively followed Ensler’s vision of speaking honestly about the female body through their spectacular and eye-opening performance. It’s no small feat to memorize three pages of text about orgasms and vaginas and fearlessly perform it alone without embarrassment, but these actresses effortlessly delivered their lines.
Bridget Kyeremateng, a second-year black studies and feminist studies double major, performed My Angry Vagina, and humorously ranted to a roaring audience about the unjust torture brought against the vagina, such as tampons, douches, and OB/GYN tools.
“Stop shoving and stop cleaning it up,” Kyeremateng shouted to peals of laughter. “My vagina doesn’t need to be cleaned up. It smells good already. Don’t try to decorate. Don’t believe them when he tells you it smells like rose petals when it’s supposed to smell like pussy.”
My Vagina was a Village was a heart-wrenching piece performed by Leilani Riahi, a third-year psychology major, and Alyssa Evans, a second-year College of Creative Studies literature major, and it describes horrific testimonies of Bosnian women suffering in refugee rape camps.
“Not since they took turns for seven days smelling like feces and smoked meat, they left their dirty sperm inside me,” said Evans. “I became a river of poison and pus and all the crops died up, and the fish.”
Meli Padilla, a fourth-year environmental studies and zoology double major, performed Flood, a humorous anecdote based on a 72-year-old woman’s interview, where the woman revealed she had never experienced an orgasm. After attending sex therapy in New York, she went home and had her very first orgasm in her bathtub.
“You happy? You made me talk—you got it out of me,” said Padilla, drawled in an amusing accent and decked out in a silver wig, conservative long skirt, and granny cardigan. “You got an old lady to talk about her down-there. You feel better now? You know, actually, you’re the first person I ever told about this, and I feel a little better.”
The Women’s Ensemble Theater Troupe openly embraced the vagina theme and had great fun with it, as they sold “Vagina Lollipops” and “Better-Than-Sex Cupcakes” during intermission, and raffled off a 10-speed vibrator and passion fruit-flavored lubricant while donned in giant vagina costumes, the same ones they wore around campus while advertising their show in the weeks prior. The production also donated all proceeds to the Santa Barbara Rape Crisis Center and One Billion Rising.
The second portion of the show was HerStories, a collection of UCSB student-written pieces, which embodies Ensler’s effort in combating oppression and creating a safe space for women’s voices. These pieces touch on matters that aren’t recognized in the Vagina Monologues.
Kirsten Nygaard, a fourth-year theater and film studies double major, delivered a moving soliloquy, Isn’t it Funny, written by Kali Deming. She plays the role of a college freshman who was having the time of her life at UCSB until she was brutally raped at an Isla Vista party, shattering her hopes and dreams for her future and resulting in a spiral of shame and self-doubt.
“This is what a society does,” said Nygaard. “We deal with the aftermath but not the prevention. It means talking, it means understanding, it means education, and it means fucking equality.”
Nygaard continued to describe how society treats rape in a singularized matter that we’re detached from, never thinking it can actually happen to someone we know. She reported that one out of four collegiate women are reported rape victims, and she delivered this chilling statement.
“Now let’s make this personal,” said Nygard. “I have about 600 female Facebook friends. According to that one in four statistic, 150 of my Facebook friends will report rape at some point in their life. It happens right here, every day, on this campus.”
Vagina Monologues and HerStories successfully raised awareness about the feminist movement and revealed the reality behind horrifying issues that are still prevalent in our own community and across the globe. The Women’s Ensemble Theater Troupe’s performance celebrated the vagina and demystified a student audience through its brutally honest script, uncensored straightforwardness, and humorous anecdotes.