Kelly Sullivan/The AS Review
The “Vagina Memoirs,” an adaptation of Eve Ensler’s “Vagina Monologues,” will be performed for four nights from Feb. 23 through Feb. 26. The free events, presented by the Associated Students Women’s Center, will take place in the Viking Union Multipurpose Room Feb. 23 through Feb. 25, and in the Performing Arts Center Concert Hall on Feb. 26. All shows start at 7 p.m., and doors open at 6:30 p.m.
This will be the fifth year the “Memoirs” have been performed on campus. The event showcases the personal stories of female and female-identified students, as well as male, male-identified students and community members. Each performer takes five minutes to tell their stories of hope and tragedy.
“Go into the performances and expect your heart to break a little,” Women’s Center Coordinator Lizzie Lamb said.
Lamb said this year a large focus has been put toward making sure the event is trans-inclusive, and two cast members identify as being transgender. She said the goal is to alter the view of the feminism by including people who identify as queer or transgender, who have traditionally been excluded from the movement.
“Women’s experience is so much more than what we look like and what’s between our legs,” Lamb said.
About 50 people showed up for the casting call in November. It was a challenge to select the 15 cast members that would be part of the show, Lamb said. Everyone who identifies with female experience deserves the chance to tell their story.
Women’s Center Assistant Coordinator Tanesha Tekola said the goal was to cast a multitude of voices with an array of different experiences. Although the performance is free, Tekola said that last year she was turned away from two performances because the venue was too full.
“Be sure to get there early,” she said.
This year’s show is directed by student-volunteers Robin Marquis and Saraswati Noel, who both performed in last year’s “Memoirs.”
“It was the most incredible thing I’ve ever done,” Marquis said. “It’s one of the most revolutionary acts one can do to tell their truths.”
Marquis said that the experience of working and bonding with the other cast members and telling her story was so cathartic for her that she shifted her focus of study in school from environmental education to youth community empowerment, with a special focus on victims of trauma. Marquis even designed her Fairhaven senior project around directing this year’s performance.
The most important part of the process is creating a safe space for everyone at the very beginning, Marquis said. Nobody’s story or information will be leaked before the very first performance, she said. Topics of the performance will include sexual assault, body image, gender identity, racism and classism, she said.
The preparation for the performances started with discussions and writing workshops, Marquis said. Sometimes there are many layers to break through before the real experience or source of conflict can be identified and narrowed into a five-minute presentation, she said.
The cast has met every week for the past three months. Each week everyone was assigned a “vagina buddy” who they would take on a “vagina date” and get to know one another.
Annie Jansen, editor of the Labyrinth literary journal, an annual publication published by the Women’s Center, said that after performing Ensler’s “Vagina Monologues” for a couple of years at Western, the WC came to the realization in 2005 that although the “Monologues” were a valuable piece of female empowerment, the Western community had many untold stories of its own. The WC then decided to create the “Vagina Memoirs” to provide a safe place where female and trans-identified students could share their experiences.
Lamb said Western is the only place in the world that does the “Vagina Memoirs.” By telling the stories of our community members, it makes the experiences more personal and tangible, she said.
“It brings it a lot closer to home,” Lamb said. “It is home.”