Vaginas are physiologically defined as the passage from the uterus to the vulva, but they have countless other meanings to billions of women.
“No matter how you identify or who you are sexually attracted to, we all have a connection to at least one vagina,” said UCSC student Rachel Henry, who is one of the three directors of the “Vagina Monologues” production at UCSC.
The “Vagina Monologues” is an annual and global production created by playwright Eve Ensler. The project began after Ensler interviewed 200 women about their relationships with their vaginas. She turned these interviews into the first version of the monologues, completed in 1996. The monologues she wrote are as different as the women who told them, but they all work to empower women while breaking down the taboos surrounding vaginas.
The “Vagina Monologues” are now closely tied to V-Day, which is a global movement seeking to end violence against women and its devastating repercussions. Working together, the “Vagina Monologues” and V-Day raise awareness and money for anti-violence groups.
“The [monologues] are meant to be universal and apply to many women, but we are also all unique women,” Henry said. “It’s important for us all to find strength and excitement in our own sexuality — in our own vaginas — however that means to us.”
Rachel Henry, Emma Rouda and Gabbi Amburg direct the cast of 13 women, made up of a tight-knit unit of UCSC students, one alumna and some Cabrillo students.
“All of these people around me really care and are passionate,” said first-year student and “Vagina Monologues” actress Miranda Henigman. “They always have wisdom to bring me back down to a calm level and help me think I can get through this, we all can get through this. It’s amazing how strong of a bond you can create with people in such a short amount of time.”
A rehearsal for the production feels less like a necessary drill and more like an intimate gathering of close friends, complete with serious chemistry and a quiver of inside jokes. While planning out the play’s premiere, the directors reminded the cast to stay backstage during intermission. One of the cast members sarcastically commented how boring it will be to hang out together backstage.
“Don’t worry, we’ll give you conversation cards so you have something to talk about,” Rouda said.
Henigman is performing one of the more distressing monologues: an abstract, dream-like memory of Eve Ensler’s abusive relationship with her now deceased father. Henigman said practicing the monologue can be an emotionally taxing process, but would be much harder if it were not for her fellow cast members.
“We take moments to collect ourselves and check in after we’ve worked on it, which is important because some of these monologues hit us in very personal ways and can be upsetting,” Henigman said. “We don’t just pretend it’s not upsetting though. We take time, we talk about how we’re feeling about it, how to heal and how to embrace the material.”
Eve Ensler’s interviews span hundreds of women, and the sheer complexity of each woman’s discourse on her vagina is a testament to the endless types of relationships that exist. These differing perspectives are conveyed through the contrasting moods of the play.
“You will pee your pants from laughing during the show and you will also cry. We take you through a whole range of emotions through the performance,” Henry said.
During some of the monologues the rehearsal room filled with laughter, during others it was silenced by the seriousness and conviction of the content, while other moments included both. Yet the monologues in no way sidestep difficult topics — the project as a whole is inseparable from the weighty content it deals with.
“Having the balance between the extremities of happiness and joy, but also the real sadness and trauma that happens in everyday life — that makes a good show,” said UCSC theater arts graduate and “Vagina Monologues” performer Vanessa Chavez.
Similarly, the final part of the play, “One Billion Rising,” is an emotionally-charged group monologue named after a sobering statistic: one in three women — or one billion women total — will be the victim of violence during their life.
“The creator of [the ‘Vagina Monologues’], Eve Ensler, traveled the world and has done hundreds if not thousands of interviews,” Chavez said. “It’s a worldwide movement and we’re just a little piece of the puzzle”