By Kayla Upadhyaya, Managing Arts Editor
Published March 21, 2013
LSA freshman Madeline Parkinson had never seen her vagina before. She was a senior in high school when she first saw “The Vagina Monologues” at an Eastern Michigan University production of the episodic play by Eve Ensler.
The Vagina Monologues
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“It completely changed my life,” Parkinson said.
Parkinson described the scene that had the most profound impact on her: A woman discovers her body’s beauty when using a mirror to see her vagina for the first time ever.
“I had always sort of regarded myself and my body as something that could be improved upon,” Parkinson said. “I’ve never had great self-confidence, and so I saw the show … and I realized I’m 18 years old and I’ve never seen a part of my body. And so, I went home, and the next day, I got down there with a mirror, and I cried.”
“I had never realized how beautiful that part of my body was — that it wasn’t something gross or something to be ashamed of,” Parkinson continued. “After that, I looked at myself and my body in a completely different way.”
Now, Parkinson has the chance to be a part of the show that reshaped her perspective. On March 21, “The Vagina Monologues” will be performed at the University.
Ensler penned the play after conducting over 200 interviews with women about their views and experiences when it comes to sex, relationships and violence against women. She teamed up with producer Willa Shalit and others to start V-Day, a global non-profit that raises money through productions of the show for women’s anti-violence groups.
The production is presented by Students For Choice, a student organization on campus that promotes reproductive justice, and the proceeds will go to SafeHouse, Ann Arbor’s support center for people impacted by domestic violence and sexual assault.
SFC president Carly Manes, an LSA sophomore, explained SFC’s decision to tackle its first theater production. While the organization is typically associated with advocacy and action regarding abortion, Manes said “The Vagina Monologues” fits into the group’s larger purview of promoting women’s sexual agency.
Manes also explained that SFC took interest in the show because of the usefulness of exploring these issues through theater.
“I think that it’s a way to engage people without being threatening,” she said.
Beyond hoping to inspire activism, Manes said she hopes any members of the audience who might not identify as feminists will walk away no longer afraid of the title. Most of the students acting in the show are not in SFC — some even came in with reservations about calling themselves feminists, but according to Parkinson, the show can be transformative.
On the first day of rehearsal, the cast had a long discussion about themselves and their vaginas, sharing their personal experiences with feminism.
“This one woman comes to mind: We’re sitting around in a circle and we’re talking, and she says, ‘Guys, I don’t know any of this,’ ” Parkinson said. “She was embarrassed because she didn’t quite understand some of the concepts that people were just throwing out there.”
Flash forward a couple of months. At the end of the show, the members of the cast all step forward and say why they are rising up against abuse of and violence against women.
Parkinson was struck by what that same young woman who admitted to not knowing much about feminism said at her turn.
“She steps forward, and she says, ‘I’m rising because I’m learning,’ ” Parkinson said. “And it’s just been really awesome seeing her and other people start to find their own voice when it comes to feminism and being women.”
The whole production process has been an emotional journey, and Parkinson noted that one of the distinct challenges is balancing the show’s more humorous monologues with its very serious moments.
“Even as recently as yesterday, I’ll sit there and I’ll cry in rehearsal,” Parkinson said. “There are some really, really serious things that can be very triggering, very hard-hitting and hit close to home.”
‘The Vagina Monologues’ balances its humor delicately,” she continued. “I think they do an excellent job of making sure things that are very serious aren’t being made fun of.”
Because of the triggering nature of the show, LSA senior and SFC member Aja Weston came up with the idea to have a post-production debrief, which audience members are encouraged to attend. A representative from the University’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center will lead the debrief, but Weston explained that there isn’t a specific structure to the talk.
“It’ll depend on who shows up and what they want,” Weston said. “We wanted to have a platform for discussing what happens next, to continue the dialogue.”
Parkinson, Manes and Weston all emphasized that they hope students of all identities and backgrounds come to the show, which is by and about women, but not necessarily just for people with vaginas.
“It really goes beyond just talking about vaginas,” Parkinson said. “It’s not just a group of people standing up there describing labias. It’s really a celebration and exploration of womanhood and femininity, and I think it applies to everybody.”
When asked about what audiences should take away, Parkinson recalled her personal relationship to the show.
“I hope that at least one person is going to walk away the same way I did, realizing that they’re beautiful and that there’s nothing to be ashamed of for being a woman and for having a vagina.”