There’s an all-color cast for this year’s production of “The Vagina Monologues,” but you wouldn’t know it by looking onstage.
Not everyone in the 36-member cast is a minority as originally intended. Instead, some are white women who identify themselves with various colors.
“At auditions, we experienced white women identifying themselves as ‘women of color,’ ” co-director Molly Raynor said. “We decided to cast based on self-identifications.”
Some cast members’ self-identifications match their skin color. Others don’t. One cast member identifies herself as pink.
“It’s a very colorful production,” Raynor said.
Written by playwright Eve Ensler, the play is part of a larger political movement, the V-Day College Campaign, which aims to stop violence against women.
Last October, directors and producers of the campus show announced their intention of using an all-color cast, resulting in a backlash from students and other community members.
For cast member Grace Hall, a doctoral student in the School of Public Health, the policy gives women of color the chance to address the violence and lack of empowerment they experience.
“The campus should be coming together to support the larger cause of V-day,” Hall said. “Having a backlash is not an overt form of violence, but it is not supportive either.”
Some opponents called the casting policy “reverse discrimination,” while others believed the policy went against V-Day’s ultimate goal of feminine empowerment.
According to V-Day regulations set by the national organization that owns the play, campus productions of the monologues must be open to all women, regardless of race. If organizers do not adhere to the stipulations of the campaign, the national organization has the power to shut down this year’s production, as well as prohibit future productions.
Raynor said although the play’s organizers were taking a risk by defying V-Day’s rules, they felt it was necessary to make a statement because it promotes a new perspective on the definition of “women of color” by including Latinos, Asians and other racial groups – not just blacks.
In a written statement, V-Day College Campaign director Shael Norris said although the national organization commends the organizers’ efforts to develop a diverse student cast, V-Day does not endorse a production that engages some women at the exclusion of others.
The tension between campus and national organizers has been reduced because white women are now included.
After campus organizers explained the make-up of the final cast and their reasoning for the “all-color” label, national officials said the show is no longer at risk of being shut down.
“We hope that their efforts have brought women of color into the V-Day movement on campus as never before,” Norris said. “We also hope that the dynamic debate and dialogue that has ensued has rallied women and men of all races and ethnicities to work together to bring about awareness of violence against all women and girls.”
Campus discussion over the monologues culminated in a teach-in last night to support the all-color label.
At the teach-in, more than 50 students and cast members gathered in Haven Hall to address the controversy surrounding this year’s show and the history of the play.
Women’s Studies Prof. Maria Cotera, who participated in the teach-in, expressed support for the organizers’ decision to push for an “all-color” cast.
The monologues, Cotera said, are flawed because they focus on oppression and they don’t provide accurate portrayals of the experiences of women of color.
“I don’t think this would have been realized without this push and without getting people engaged in dialogue,” Cotera said.
She added that she says incorporating a more diverse cast is the best way to deal with a flawed script.
While the national organization rejects the notion that Ensler’s script is inherently racist, some supporters of the policy believe women of color have previously been cast predominantly as the victims of sexual violence and rarely in a positive or liberated light.
“Certain monologues are ‘tagged’ for women of color,” said Afro-American and African Studies Prof. Megan Sweeney. “This production (will) encourage attention to women of color as victims.”
Co-director Lauren Whitehead, who said she has been called a racist in several national news outlets based on the policy, said she feels the show has already made a great impact because it has sparked renewed interest in the show and the campaign as a whole.
“No matter what happens with the national organization, we are already successful,” Whitehead said. “Yes, it is controversial, but I couldn’t be happier because it means people are talking.”
The show is scheduled for Feb. 19.