The Vagina Monologues speaks to new generation in 1st performance at Marianopolis College

Marianopolis College students preparing the school's first performance of The Vagina Monologues say the experience has changed their lives.

Marianopolis students preparing to perform The Vagina Monologues say the experience has changed their lives

Marianopolis students (from left to right) Bu Yi Ding, Gabrielle Thomas and Diamond Yao are performing in the college's first production of The Vagina Monologues to raise money for local groups fighting violence against women. (Shari Okeke/CBC)

Although the award-winning play The Vagina Monologues premiered in New York two decades ago and has been performed year after year on college and university campuses worldwide, for a small group of Marianopolis students its message is so fresh and so profound they say it's changing their lives.

"It's been euphoric. It's been a revelation. It's been the start of something new," said Gabrielle Thomas, a second-year liberal arts student who is directing Marianopolis College's first production of the play.

Daybreak's Shari Okeke speaks with students from Marianopolis College, who are performing the feminist play The Vagina Monologues. 9:39

The play is a series of monologues by playwright Eve Ensler, who interviewed more than 200 women from different walks of life. It touches on many topics including birth, sex, love, menstruation and rape.

Ensler has also updated the play several times over the years and she founded V-Day events in which The Vagina Monologues is performed around the world to raise money for a local organization working to end violence against women and girls.

Proceeds from the Marianopolis production will go to the South Asian Women's Centre and Women Aware, which offers support to victims of domestic violence.

'Turn off guys?'

Thomas, who wasn't born when Ensler wrote The Vagina Monologues, was hesitant when a teacher first asked her to consider directing the play last fall.

She asked her father for advice.

"I said to him, 'Do you think that by taking on this position, by assuming this major role, I will turn off guys? And do you think they won't want to be with me anymore because...I feel comfortable with my body?'" Thomas said.

Thomas said her father told her that if she only focuses on what other people want, she will be miserable and needs to consider what she wants.

Now, after months of preparation, directing 13 other women and practicing delivering one of the monologues herself, Thomas can hardly believe her initial reaction.

A promotional poster for Marianopolis College's production of The Vagina Monologues by cast member Lisa Vlasova. (Lisa Vlasova)

"I was thinking not about, 'Will this be fun for me?' I was thinking, 'Will this be enjoyable for guys?' The fact that was my initial instinct is proof enough that this play has to happen — that we have to do this for ourselves," she said. 

When Diamond Yao, a second year arts and science student, heard about the production she was eager to participate even though she knew little about the play.

She will perform the monologue My Vagina was my Village, which she explained is about the sexual assault of women during the war in Bosnia. 

Yao said she's learning from performing the monologue because the experience described is so far from her own reality.

"Even if it's foreign to me, it made me take a step back....Now I can understand where these women come from a little bit better," Yao said.

Not afraid of word 'feminist'

Bu Yi Ding, a second year pure and applied student who wants to study engineering in university, is eager to perform in the play because she said the message is about equality and feminism and not being afraid of the word 'feminist.'

She said many people in their late teens still have outdated views about women.

"There are people thinking women are less important, (we're) not supposed to be very good at physics and science...(we're) supposed to like housework. There are people thinking that."

It's about calling attention to people who ignore women, Ding said.

"Not just men, also some women they ignore their own place in the world," she said.

At one point Thomas was discouraged as she realized many students seemed indifferent about the upcoming performance or had misconceptions about it.

"Many think it's going to be oppressive or something aggressive that will...bombard them with this vagina propaganda or something," she said.

But Thomas decided to visit classrooms, performing parts of the monologues to open people's eyes.

Now, there's more interest. 

And as the first performance approaches, she's feeling different than she did just a few months ago.

'Just had to look within myself'

Back then, she says, she was more conditioned by messages in the media that said 'I have to go invest a bunch of money in sexy lingerie, I have to buy tons of makeup products, I have to do all of those other things in order to be good," Thomas said.

After reading The Vagina Monologues over and over in preparation for the performance, her perspective changed.

"(I realized) maybe I didn't have to look that far in order to become whole or to become me and to reach my full potential. Maybe I just had to look within myself," she said.

Thomas is also thrilled that after writing to The Vagina Monologues playwright Eve Ensler about the Marianopolis production, she received a reply from Ensler, expressing appreciation for her work and dedication in transforming the college's community.

Now Thomas says no matter how many people show up, she and the other performers have already accomplished a lot.
 
"Already 14 women have been changed by this experience and we may not be able to change the world with this production but the first step is that we're changing ourselves," Thomas said.


The performances are Feb. 19 at 7 p.m. at Marianopolis College and Feb. 27 at 2 p.m. at St James Church, 
1439 St. Catherine St. West (Guy metro). Tickets are $15 at the door.  

About the Author

Shari Okeke

Shari Okeke is writer/broadcaster for Daybreak on CBC Radio, and creator of Mic Drop, a CBC original podcast. She was born and raised in Montreal.