Vagina Monologues Shatters Stigma

By Alex Strott

The Vagina Monologues is an episodic play written by Eve Ensler ’75 in 1996. The play consists of a series of monologues about the “female experience,” such as sex, menstruation, sexual assault, orgasm, female empowerment and solidarity based on both Ensler’s personal experiences and interviews she conducted with other female-identifying persons.

Two Fridays ago, Rebecca Coates-Finke ’17 held auditions for two showings of the play, which will occur on Feb. 14, Valentine’s Day, a “V-Day” tradition, in the Hepburn Zoo. According to the Director of Chellis House Women’s Resource Center Karin Hanta, the last time the play was staged at Middlebury College was 2009. In the past, all performances of the popular play sold out.

The Vagina Monologues marks Coates-Finke’s directing debut at the College, although she has already stage-managed multiple productions during her two semesters here. Coates-Finke, who also works as a student monitor for the Chellis House, had never read The Vagina Monologues before she decided to try her hand at directing them.

“I like theater and I like social activism, and I wanted to see what would happen when I brought the two of them together,” she said.

In order to secure the rights to the play, Coates-Finke registered with Ensler’s organization, VDay.org, which is dedicated to ending violence against women. Each year, a new and revised version of The Vagina Monologues is released with special instructions. One of the caveats of performing The Vagina Monologues is that all proceeds from the show must benefit a local organization working to end violence against women and girls. All proceeds from the two showings on Feb. 14 will benefit WomenSafe, an Addison County based organization committed to ending domestic and sexual violence against women and children.

Coates-Finke reflected on the fact that Ensler is a Middlebury graduate but that her history here is one that often goes unmentioned.

“I find it interesting that this particular piece of Middlebury history is not really recognized,” Coates-Finke said. “There’s no reason we shouldn’t be proud that Eve Ensler went here.”

Coates-Finke further expressed that she was not sure what to expect at auditions, and therefore was pleased to see so many female-identified people of different backgrounds trying out for a role in the play. The final cast includes eleven monologue performers and three narrators. About half of them are international students, and many of them are not involved in the theater department at Middlebury.

Sandra Markowitz ’15.5 will be performing one of the original monologues, entitled “The Little Coochie Snorter That Could,” in which a woman describes a series of memories involving her vagina, culminating in the final memory of a sexual experience with an older woman where she learned that her vagina could be a place of pleasure and happiness, rather than a stigmatized object that no one talks about.

Markowitz noted, “People can talk about penises all the time. The intention [of The Vagina Monologues] is less to convince people to become feminist and more about creating less of a social stigma around vaginas.”

Markowitz further discussed the fact that several men have questioned her as to why there isn’t a “penis monologues.”

“It’s kind of like society is ‘the penis monologues.’ You don’t need stories of people saying things like ‘my cock is awesome’ because people are saying stuff like that every day,” Markowitz said.

Another performer, Jiya Pandya ’17, is writing her own original monologue for the performance. It is based on interviews she conducted with the Middlebury cast about their first period experiences and will serve as an introduction to the play. And while Pandya admitted that the play is certainly “questionable” for its failure to integrate more narratives pertaining to the “female” or “vagina” experience, she maintained that it is a fun play that definitely makes sexuality more personal.

Both Markowitz and Pandya affirmed the fact that the cast has already come to feel more like a community, even after a mere three full-cast rehearsals. At the second full-cast rehearsal, Coates-Finke turned out all the lights and asked the women to practice moaning sensually in the dark, as part of one of the monologues.

“It could be really awkward, getting a group of girls in a room and practicing moaning together,” Markowitz said. “But it’s actually really fun.”

“All of the women in the cast bring themselves to their roles in a really special way,” Coates-Finke said. “If you come and see it you are going to see something really true to this campus.”