Kirsten O'Brien/The AS Review

The “Vagina Memoirs,” an original theater production created through the Associated Students Women’s Center, has impacted the lives of performers and audience members for the past seven years.

In February, the 2010 production of “Memoirs” received an award from the Association of College Unions International for Student Driven Program of the Year. Lisa Rosenberg, assistant director of student activities and supervisor of the Women’s Center, wrote the nomination for the program based on last year’s show, which was created by 17 student performers and three student staff members.

“It’s hard to pinpoint ‘Memoirs’ success on one person, even though nomination was based on last year’s cast,” said Lizzie Lamb, Women’s Center coordinator. “There was so much work before that that was put into the ‘Memoirs,’ and it’s not just the coordinators and not just the cast that are winning this award, it’s everybody. It’s really exciting and really humbling at the same time.”

Vice President of Business and Operations Ben Brockman and Vice President for Activities Alisha Beck accepted the award at the 2011 ACUI conference that took place from Feb. 26 to March 3 in Chicago.

The ACUI is a nonprofit educational organization that brings together college unions and student activities professionals from hundreds of schools throughout seven countries.  Within the ACUI, there are 25 institutions outside the United States and 557 intuitions total.

Laura Bohórquez, a Western senior and 2011 “Vagina Memoirs” cast member, said that the award not only recognizes the production itself, but the stories and truths being told by the performers. She said that although this was her first time performing in “Memoirs,” she had attended the show for the past two years and always felt very inspired by the production.

“When I heard they won, I was very happy,” she said. “Not only is it empowerment for individuals, but it is recognizing their stories and the power of their words. In a sense, I felt empowered because they empowered me.”

Last year's cast performing the "Vagina Memoirs" in the Fairhaven Auditorium. Archive photo by Erik Simkins/The AS Review.

The 2011 “Vagina Memoirs” production ran from Feb. 23 to Feb. 26. Sixteen memoirs were performed, including memoirs told by Western students and Bellingham community members. Fifteen of the performances were by female-identified individuals, and one performance was by a transgender male-identified community member. Lamb said about 1,900 people attended “Memoirs” over the course of the four nights.

“The general atmosphere was awesome, especially toward the last few nights; people were really energized in the audience. It was a packed house every night,” Lamb said. “We got a lot of positive feedback from it too. In the event evaluations, some people say it’s the best program they have ever seen at Western.”

Danela Butler, a Western Sophomore and 2011 “Memoirs” cast member, said that she had never seen “Memoirs” before, and that it was a blessing to be a part of this year’s production. She said that “Memoirs” is an important tool of healing not only for the performers, but that it can provide audience members a feeling of camaraderie and community.

“It assures people they’re not alone in whatever they’re going through. We can share our stories, which can also be someone else’s story as well; that way they’ll have the courage to stand up and say, “This is what happened to me. I want to be healed from this, I want to rise above this and no longer be a victim,” Butler said.

“By this award, it will help not just women, but men to also step forward and want to be a part of the production too,” Butler added.

Lamb said that the “Vagina Memoirs,” an original Western production, is often confused with “The Vagina Monologues,” a collection of 15 stories from women compiled by author and performer Eve Ensler. Lamb said that while “The Vagina Monologues” is a great way to speak about the experience of being a woman, it leaves out perspectives of other gender identities. Lamb said that “The Vagina Monologues” do not include stories from women of color, queer or transgender people. The “Vagina Memoirs,” Lamb said, is not a set theatrical play; the production changes from year to year based on the stories of the new group of performers.

“The ‘Memoirs’ are local, and give really honest, tangible human perspectives that are contemporary and much more inclusive,” she said. “It is much more healing and much more cathartic than any possible iteration of the ‘Monologues.’”

Lamb said that Robin Marquis and Saraswati Noel, who facilitated the 2011 cast through the process of writing their memoirs, were especially helpful in making this year’s performance a success. Marquis and Noel were performers in the award-winning 2010 “Vagina Memoirs” cast. Lamb added that Noel and Marquis have nicely summed up this award-winning, all-inclusive production: “The ‘Memoirs’ are for anyone who has been marginalized based on their gender identity.” ■