Next month Eve Ensler’s “The Vagina Monologues” will be coming back to the Central Coast. This show is the theatrical centre-piece of the VDAY-UNTIL THE VIOLENCE STOPS movement: the global phenomenon, pioneered by Ensler, that aims to raise awareness of women’s issues and combat violence everywhere. It features a collection of monologues that vocalize and celebrate women’s actual stories. The show is an emotional roller-coaster that shares a range of lived experience that can move from hilarious to confronting, to deeply moving, but the collective result is an uplifting and memorable piece of theatre. This year, the Spotlight theme is workplace violence and exploitation, and the Central Coast production – staged at The Rhythm Hut in Gosford – will raise funds for our local Coast Shelter to fund their ‘Love Bites’ preventative program, which educates high school students on issues surrounding domestic violence and sexual assault.
Director Rose Cooper and I both appeared in a production of “The Vagina Monologues” when it was first performed on the Coast ten years ago, so I was thrilled to have an opportunity to ask her a few questions about her involvement with the VDAY movement, and her vision for the new show.
How did you first learn about the VDay movement, why do you think it’s important, what do you think have been its most important achievements to date, and what does it mean to you, personally?
I had already heard of the play “The Vagina Monologues” when it first came out in NYC, but it wasn’t until my friend Darlene decided to head up her own VDay campaign that I knew it existed. I can’t picture one without the other now. “The Vagina Monologues” – as a piece – changed with the focus on worldwide events. VDay is important because it is constantly evolving and changing every year – continually seeking out instances of violence and exploitation. For instance, had the 2008 campaign not shone a spotlight on the victims of violence in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in the US, I would not have contemplated that there would be such a prevalence of sexual assault in gymnasiums and schools where people were taking refuge. This is goddamned awful – that an already bad situation could possibly be seen as an opportunity for sexual assault. A few years ago, the offshoot “One Billion Rising” came about where ‘flashmobs’ happen worldwide to dance in protest against violence. It’s such an accessible and simple but powerfully effective piece of activism – and one in which men, women and children can all become involved.
A couple of years ago I started to think about the anniversary looming. I’d wondered why no one had picked up the gauntlet in recent years. I wasn’t sure I’d do it, but then the BROCK TURNER “Dumpster Rape” hit the headlines mid-last year and that really settled it for me. The issue of consent and general ‘rape culture’ that exists in the Western World is getting worse, not better. And events like VDay – and plays like “The Vagina Monologues” are really the best antidote I can think of. At the very least it gets people talking.
It honours the 2007 show, because my production would not exist without it. While I have not ‘copied’ anything from that production I have undoubtedly been influenced Darlene’s unencumbered vision; the fact that she had a choreographer involved from the beginning was an inspired thought process. It helped me think outside the square. I have given each piece an individual flavour. I’ve used the space in unusual ways. I’ve incorporated music and movement. “The Vagina Monologues is a template”. The rules ask you to keep it static, but Darlene overstepped the rules. With that precedent, there was no going back: there was only ‘being just as creative, but in a different way’. Darlene is on my shoulder the whole time. She has no idea what I have planned, but I do hope she can make the journey from Victoria to see it. 🙂
Because I knew I’d be getting this thing going primarily by myself – at least initially – and because I recall how hard it was to secure sponsorship last time, I decided to look for the most financially favourable venue, where ticket sales would account for most of the funds raised. I seriously felt that the folklore attached to the previous production(s) in 2007 and 2008 would have some people coming forward to help. This actually was not the case, so I was surprised that this “asking people to help” thing was still a thing. I figured people would step up. How naive I am! Happily our printing sponsor, Peter at Kwik Copy Gosford, was only too willing to donate a hefty amount of free printing – so our overheads really are ridiculously low.
Apart from the anniversary, was there anything else that particularly moved you to organise a Central Coast production this year? Is there anything about this year’s spotlight that particularly speaks to you? Are there any other monologues in the show that you have especially strong feelings about in any way?
Well, I’ve always been a passionate feminist and my raison d’etre as a journalist has always been women’s issues and sexuality. I’ve always toyed with the idea of directing it – and trying to put my own stamp on it. To paraphrase one of the monologues: “It started out as a mission of sorts, then I got involved in it. I got really good at it. Kinda brilliant. It was as if I found my calling!”. In all humility, this has been such an eye opener for me. I had no idea I was able to come up with ideas that made the best possible use out of perceived ‘obstacles’ (like shy performers, for example). I had no idea that, once I climbed inside each piece individually – with a director’s eye, that I would find SO MUCH MORE in each one. I’m particularly happy that the script now has a monologue that is about growing up Transgender – as a permanent part of the script. And to say this year’s spotlight monologue blew me away is an understatement; it is quite simply one of the most moving pieces of performance poetry I have ever read. I have assigned each member of the cast with a chunk of it. And there is not a spare word in it. Every sentence holds a lot of weight. It’s a big responsibility on my shoulders to do it justice.
What are you hoping VDay Central Coast 2017 will achieve?
My goal from the get-go was to revive awareness of the campaign, bring it back to the Coast, bring the VMs to a new generation. I think our community needs something like this as an annual or biannual event – something to galvanise the community for worldwide benefit. I will be asking for expressions of interest in having regular women’s discussion groups after the campaign is over, just to drag women of all ages away from Facebook and have them talking again about things that matter – and better sexual education, self esteem, the negative influence of pornography, the phenomenon rape culture, LGBTQIA issues…all need to be dragged out of the closet and talked about – face to face. We all have so much valuable input and knowledge to impart to the younger generation. I feel that women’s sexual empowerment was stronger in the 1970s than it is now.
What is the “Love Bites” programme, and why do you think it’s important? How did you come to choose it as the primary recipient for the fundraiser’s proceeds, and what are you hoping they’ll do for the programme?
Love Bites is a programme developed and facilitated by Coast Shelter to educate high school aged kids on issues surrounding sexual assault and domestic violence. I think education is the best way forward. Shelters take care of the end result, but education could stop much of this stuff happening. Funding the programme means encouraging them to continue developing it and expanding it. When they told me about the programme, I couldn’t believe just how perfect a beneficiary it would be.
What are your hopes for the future of the VDay movement on the Central Coast and are you optimistic they’ll be realized?
What else has made VDAY Central Coast 2017 special for you?
It would be remiss of me not to mention just how wonderful my cast is; so much diversity in age, cultural background and personality and yet – from day one – the group gelled so well. What a beautiful, funny, cheeky, and extremely talented palette I have been given to paint with!
I’m so excited to bring this piece to the stage again. It feels familiar, yet also brand new. We have one returning cast member from our 2008 production – the legendary Pollyanna Forshaw – who has been so supportive, and has placed so much faith in me, that it’s given me the impetus to really let my creativity soar.
And it’s like an eagle overhead.
No word of a lie.
Thanks for the chance to speak about it.
Thank you, Rose, for taking the time to share your thoughts and experience with us. I’m really looking forward to seeing your vision realized on stage. I know it’s going to be amazing.
For more information on VDAY CENTRAL COAST and the VDAY movement, visit https://www.facebook.com/groups/1587561004880944/