Chelsea Asplund/The AS Review
Bethany Jo Denton can recall the exact moment she knew she had to participate in the Vagina Memoirs.
“I remember sitting in the audience and thinking, ‘I want to be up there, I want to be part of this collection of women, telling their stories,’” she said. “It was the most incredible thing I had seen.”
The Vagina Memoirs, the annual production put on by the AS Women’s Center, highlights different issues women face from women themselves, participants who share their stories, memories and life experiences through powerful performances. The production is modeled off of performer Eve Ensler’s episodic play “The Vagina Monologues,” where actresses read monologues varying in topic, but all with the same theme of female empowerment. The event in previous years has covered tough topics such as domestic violence, body image, racial, sexual and religious issues.
Denton, who participated in the production last year, said she went into the entire process knowing she wanted to talk about her history with an eating disorder.
“I didn’t necessarily want to go into detail about the disorder, but more about how it made me feel,” Denton said. “Lots of women hear eating disorders and think of Mary Kate Olsen. There’s a lot of underexposure for women like me, and I wanted to be a voice for that.”
Women’s Center Assistant Coordinator Tanesha Tekola said it’s that idea of being a voice for the voiceless that is the heart of the Vagina Memoirs.
“A lot of people feel like we’re looking for the most original story or the most unique character. That is not what we’re looking for,” Tekola said. “We are trying to be inclusive and get all different identities. We respect the shy people and we respect the less outspoken. I feel that’s what this Vagina Memoirs is supposed to be, a way to give a voice to people.”
The Vagina Memoirs casting calls are taking place at 7 p.m. on Nov. 15 and 16 in AIC 203. Participants are not required to go to both sessions, and while the event is referred to as a “casting call,” Tekola said it is in no way a frightening audition.
Denton said the most frightening part of her experience was not the audition, but rather coming to terms with herself. Leading up to the performance, she made the decision to include her weight in her monologue.
“Even the first time I read it out loud at practices, I was crying the whole time,” Denton said. “Which now I think because of that experience, I have a much easier time talking about my body in a more objective, honest way.”
The casting call will be a meet and greet for all participants, including ice breaker games and get-to-know-you skits. Tekola said there will also be a short writing prompt, which will help participants begin their monologues.
Following the casting call, there will be weekly meetings where participants will continue on with writing assignments and pairing up with fellow cast members to work together. Tekola said participants go through this process to write their monologues, which can manifest in any form, from essays to poems to raps. The final production will be in February.
Annie Jansen, a co-facilitator and Women Center Support Staff member, participated in the production three years ago and discussed her experiences of growing up in an abstinence-only sex education school district. She said it was the sense of community that made her experience so meaningful.
“I feel like it was positive in terms of helping me grow in my understanding of myself,” Jansen said. “It made me reflect on the kind of person I have become and thinking about where I have come from. That self-reflection is really positive, and I think that’s a common reason why people do the memoirs.”
Denton said that she felt that sense of community following her performances, when strangers would approach her and tell her how much they had been inspired by her.
“It’s such a powerful experience to not only go up in front of a lot of people and say really intimate, private things, but overcoming that fear for myself,” she said. “I always felt like there was something wrong with me and I was the only one who had to deal with these sorts of issues, and after 20 years, knowing that there are people out there who feel the same way as I do, and that I touched those people, it is just an amazing thing to experience."