“We were worried about vaginas,” three actresses from the University of California, Santa Barbara’s Vagina Monologues and Herstories 2017 cast intoned at the audience for the last line of the show’s opening skit. Thus kicked off a weekend of shows put on by The Women’s Ensemble Theater Troupe at UCSB highlighting female empowerment, solidarity, and artistic vision to fundraise for the Santa Barbara Rape Crisis Center.
Originally composed from interviews author Eve Ensler had with over 200 women when published in 1996, the Vagina Monologues have become an international event performed across universities. Directed by fourth year black and feminist studies double major Bridget Kyeremateng (Vagina Monologues) and third year theater and religious studies double major Rachel Gregory (Herstories),the monologues were performed by UCSB’s Women’s Ensemble Theater Troupe with fresh, powerful delivery, full-body acting, and liberty with the script.
Mixed among the original monologues throughout the show were the Herstories skits, which became a part of UCSB’s annual Vagina Monologues performance under the name Vulvaventures four years ago. Herstories allowed the diverse cast of the show to discuss a range of personal topics that UCSB’s Women’s Ensemble Theater Troupe felt were unrepresented in the original monologues, such as suicide, drug addiction, BDSM, race, and immigration.
“We’re not trying to include everybody all at once and tell every story in the history of women, but we’re taking a few stories each year and saying ‘this is what our experience as college women is right now, this is who we are’ — and that can vary very widely,” graduated theater major and performer Alessandra Albanese told The Bottom Line in a phone interview.
UCSB’s Women’s Ensemble Theater Troupe creatively embraced the vagina theme of the event. Vaginas literally took center stage when vagina-costumed volunteers went onstage to advertise the vagina-frosted cookies, chocolate “pussy-pops,” vagitarian shirts, and vagina stickers for sale.
Over 1,800 students, faculty, and community members attended and enthusiastically bought goodies, helping to raise over $20,000 for the Santa Barbara Rape Crisis Center, double what they made last year.
Kyeremateng delivered one of the funnier monologues, “The Woman Who Loved Making Vaginas Happy,” about a high-powered lawyer turned woman-on-woman only sex worker. She truly made the act her own, describing discovering “how deeply excited I got when other women moaned, when I was responsible for other women moaning” before getting down on the stage to exhibit moans and the sex positions that elicit them such as the doggy moan, the diva moan, and the college moan (“I should be studying, I should be studying”).
Such laugh-out-loud acts threw tragic and shocking ones like the Bosnian refugee/rape victim-inspired “My Vagina Was My Village,” into sharp relief. Third year theater major Katherine Alverado and fourth year sociology major Monique Plummer starkly contrasted the woman’s perception of her sexuality before and after being raped.
Lines spoken with an upbeat lilt like, “My vagina singing all girl songs, all goat bells ringing songs, all wild autumn field songs, vagina songs, vagina home songs” emphasized the monotone delivery from the other actress of the following line, “Not since the soldiers put a long thick rifle inside me. So cold, the steel rod canceling my heart.”
Fourth year film and media studies and psychology double major Leah Bleich performed the heart-wrenching but redemptive “The Little Coochie Snorcher that Could,” an individual woman’s story about being raped as a child and finding love with an older woman as a teenager. Using an adorable Southern accent, Bleich detailed the character’s childhood of suppressing her sexuality until she had a sexual experience with an older woman.
“[It] was my surprising, unexpected, and politically incorrect salvation,” Bleich said. “She transformed my sorry-ass Coochi Snorcher and raised it into a kind of heaven.”
Third year art and black studies double major Rose Houska reminded the audience that feminism encompasses more than cisgendered women in her story “Not One or the Other.” After losing one of her ovaries to a cyst, she told the audience, “I wonder if my body got rid of my ovaries because it doesn’t give two fucks about the gender binary.”
Kyeremateng returned to perform the final Herstory, “Who is Bridget.” She relived the experience of coming “to America and [having] to realize I was black,” struggling with racial identity. Along with several other performers, she called out “our hot Cheeto-ass president” for threatening the feminist movement, to applause and laughter from the audience. The deeply introspective life story served as a fitting finale for Kyeremateng, who performed in four Vagina Monologues over her career at UCSB.
Albanese, who has also been involved in the Vagina Monologues for the past four years, wrote her own story, “Freak Out.” When talking about BDSM, performer Corey Carpenter rhetorically asked “how can you, you, you feminist, how can you ask for violence and condemn it in the same breath?” She answered “this is the life I choose.”
Fundamentally, the Vagina Monologues and Herstories showcased to the UCSB community that women should be able to live the life they choose, whatever that means to them.
“The Vagina Monologues is — pun intended — an opening into feminism and to womanhood in all its actual reality and truth,” Albanese said, ”instead of what we might happen to be taught.”