For many feminist activists in February, “V” stands for victory, Valentines, and vaginas.
The “V” comes from the V-Day campaign, a global activist movement created by playwright Eve Ensler to end violence against women and girls. Every year hundreds of communities and college campuses put on productions of Ensler’s 1997 Obie-Award-winning “The Vagina Monologues,” an episodic play that narrates women’s experiences with their sexuality.
This year, two different student organizations at Columbia are presenting the show. The undergraduate group Columbia University V-Day performed Feb. 17 and 18 in the Roone Arledge Auditorium
for crowds of up to 500 people, with proceeds going to Girls for Gender Equity, while the Columbia University Medical Center students will perform the show Thursday, Feb. 23 through Saturday,
Feb. 25 at Alumni Auditorium. CUMC’s production primarily features nursing and public health students. CUMC’s proceeds will benefit V-Day and Domestic and Other Violence Emergencies, a program run out of the Columbia NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital.
Performed annually since its off-Broadway premiere in 1996, “The Vagina Monologues” presents directors with the challenge of keeping the material fresh.
The director of Columbia’ undergraduate rendition of “The Vagina Monologues,” Morgaine Gooding-Silverwood, CC ’14 and a women’s and gender studies major, said her production would be “100 percent different” from last year. Gooding-Silverwood said that undergraduates at Columbia and Barnard have performed the show since 1998.
“There’s just so much you can do with it,” she said. Lacking an overarching storyline, the show’s non-traditional format leaves it “really open to interpretation.”
In last year’s show, the actors performed their monologues alone onstage. But this year, the whole cast interacted with one another during each other’s monologues.
“At one point, this one girl gets swallowed up by the cast, having an orgasm on the stage,” Gooding-Silverwood said.
The content of all “Vagina Monologues” shows also differs from year to year because Ensler adds new characters and monologues each year herself, including more stories of women of color and LGBT women.
This year marked the second time Gooding-Silverwood directed “The Vagina Monologues.” She first directed the show during her senior year of high school, when she presented it as a staged reading with six people. She compared the experience to “coming out of the closet as a feminist.”
“The experience was so good the first time that I wanted to see if I could recreate it in college,” she said. According to Gooding-Silverwood, this year’s show has been equally transformative.
“I had this guy from one of my classes come up to me and be like, ‘I thought that feminism before, like, I didn’t get it. I kind of thought it was just really overreacting. But now I feel like I really understand.’ I want that to happen every time the show goes on.”
Becky Fein, Public Health ’12 and director of CUMC’s production of “The Vagina Monologues,” hopes her audiences will share a similar experience. Fein is pursuing a masters degree in population and family health with an emphasis on sexual and reproductive health.
“I hope they gain a sense of awareness,” she said. “I think this show is one that really introduces a level of complexity that people aren’t really aware exists. I know the first time I walked away from it, I just felt so empowered. I felt so proud to be a woman and so excited that this discussion was happening. I hope that when people walk away from my show of it, they have that same sense of empowerment and pride.”
Although Fein hasn’t been involved with theater in the past, she had seen “The Vagina Monologues” several times before and kept mental notes for the day she would direct it.
“A lot of things that were important to me when I approached it was making a really cohesive production,” she said. Fein will include a narrator and a band to develop a sense of continuity between the monologues.
In addition to “a few smaller details,” Fein will vary the content of the show with Ensler’s newest monologues, which include narratives of women from the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo and regions that have been affected by natural disasters.
“This year, specifically, has been a very heavy show because of the climate of the world right now,” she said. “I appreciate that about the script—that it changes a little bit each year.”
Fein also plans to incorporate a recent piece Ensler wrote for the Huffington Post, titled “Over It,” which addresses rape culture.
“It is essential in this conversation,” Fein said. “It’s such an inspirational call-to-action.”
According to Fein, this February marks the eighth or ninth year that CUMC students have performed the show. Overall, Fein said that her production is in line with last year’s.
“I think as a director, you kind of find your style with it. It is a challenge to mix it up, but at the same time, some of the consistency of it I find to be part of the beauty. Because every year, there are people who’ve never seen it before. Most of the crowd will have never seen it before.”