“The Vagina Memoirs” offers women at Western the opportunity to grow and bond with other women, while sharing a personal story.
“One of the greatest things about the process is the community building and the relationships that are built,” Women's Center co-coordinator Jenny Henley said.
At Western, the memoirs have taken place for the past five years. Eve Ensler's “The Vagina Monologues,” which are not being performed this year, have been performed in conjunction with the memoirs in the past. The coordinators decided to retire the monologues this year and switch the focus to a format that was meant to be more progressive and community bonding, Henley said. The memoirs are a community version of them, and every year there is a new cast.
The memoirs involve two casts, thirteen women in each cast. They go through this great creative process of writing, and then performing their own memoir. In it there is a space that facilitated to explore your identity, gender and orientation and a space for women to reclaim voice, Henley said.
“There was a casting call in November and 43 women auditioned,” Henley said. “We had such an overwhelming number of amazing women come out that we knew it was going to be an amazing cast.”
The stories range from masturbation to abuse to the overall experience of being a woman, Women's Center co-coordinator Jessica Sele said.
“It has been an amazing space to self-reflect in an environment that other women are self-reflecting,” Henley said. “There is an emotional vulnerability that is necessary to make personal discoveries. This experience has really pushed me to be more emotionally vulnerable.”
Having a space you can talk about theories and formulate opinions and then have a product of that is really unique, Henley said. It has been really great to be involved in a process that offers both of those things. It is that idea that working on yourself can empower your community.
“Why I like the model of the memoirs is that it is women speaking for themselves and their own truths. It gives women a chance to validate their own experiences,” Henley said. “I really like it that it's women you see on campus, and in your classes.”
Performer Caitlin Pugh said one of her favorite parts from last year was standing up with fifteen women circled behind.
“Being thrown together with all these women from different backgrounds gives you a support system that makes telling strangers so much easier,” she said. “I think the audience can tell that, and that is partially why it is so powerful.”
Henley said she thinks that women aren't always allowed spaces to focus on their identity and experiences as women.
“I think that words and art are powerful and they can be used as a really effective tool of change and personal growth,” Henley said. “It is great to have a production that is theater like that can combine social artistry for change.”
The performances are 7 to 9 p.m. on March 3 at the Fairhaven Auditorium, March 4 at the Bellingham Unitarian Fellowship, March 5 and 6 at the Fairhaven Auditorium, March 7 at the Connection Downtown and March 9 at YWCA. The performances are free, but donations and money from merchandise and bake sale will raise funds for local organizations.
“For me, when I saw the memoirs, I was so humbled by the level of honesty that women in my community were giving,” Henley said. “I felt like it was such beautiful and powerful display of vulnerability and strength. It made me really proud of the community of women that I share space with, whether I knew them of not.”
According to Henley, the great thing about the memoirs is that people incorporate all types of creative expressions in their pieces and there are no boundaries.
“The audience can expect some really funny and exciting pieces, as well as some vulnerable and emotion pieces,” Sele said. “Come expecting to be affected.”