Every year as second semester begins to unfold, UC Berkeley students are familiarized with the eager salutations of those overzealous flyer-givers on Sproul shouting after them, “Hey, do you like vaginas?” Yes, it’s that time of year again — the time when UC Berkeley produces “The Vagina Monologues” in all its feminist glory, this year for the 18th time on Berkeley’s campus. “The Vagina Monologues” is writer and activist Eve Ensler’s 1996 play surrounding issues of womanhood and sexual violence. Despite its historical significance, the play becomes increasingly outdated with each passing year as we embrace the notion that womanhood isn’t defined by any one thing and certainly isn’t defined based on whether or not a person has a vagina. As directors grappling with the play’s increasingly problematic material, we’ve struggled to find a balance between holding and valuing the original monologues as very real narratives from real women and making space for folks whose identities and stories aren’t represented in this myopic vision of womanhood.
Lucky for us, this is certainly not the first year directors of the show have engaged in this conversation or struggled with the material, so with guidance from past community members and the staff at the Gender Equity Resource Center, “Our Monologues” is finally born at UC Berkeley. “Our Monologues” marks an important and necessary departure from Eve Ensler’s 1996 play toward a student-led, individualized community focused on telling our own stories in our own words and on our own terms. While this year we continue to perform some of the iconic and moving monologues from Ensler’s original show, the second act of our performance departs from the traditional model by featuring a lineup of all-original pieces with topics ranging from gender identity and sexuality to intergenerational cultural shifts and so much more.
Our community has examined pieces from Ensler’s original show with a critical eye, investigating and problematizing, both to uncover their limitations and to continue to celebrate their value. The few pieces we’ve selected from the original script will be performed in the first act of our show with an openness and circumspection that reflects this dichotomy. In our efforts to shift away from the original material of “The Vagina Monologues,” we decided to keep some of the show’s meaningful pieces in our show this year while spotlighting the original monologues included in the second act of our show.
Our hope is that this year’s double feature will be the beginning of a larger movement on Berkeley’s campus with “Our Monologues” becoming the primary space for students to explore gender, sexuality, personal identity and sexual violence through theater. Audience members should come expecting both classic and diverse stories from diverse individuals and will leave with the words of those folks ringing in their ears and in their hearts. We want to leave audiences feeling touched by the uniqueness and singularity of the performers’ monologues instead of questioning the author’s initial intent and understanding of the broader issues the monologue addresses. This desire is the motivating force behind “Our Monologues.”
With this performance, we will continue the tradition of uniting with V-Day, a global movement to end gender-based violence and the overarching organization that encompasses “The Vagina Monologues,” to donate the proceeds of our production to beneficiary organizations that have missions that orbit around our own mission: to help spread awareness of gender-based violence. This year’s beneficiaries undoubtedly benefit from the proceeds earned through a performance of a “Vagina Monologues” and “Our Monologues” double feature! Among our beneficiaries are Transgender Law Center, St. James Infirmary and Bay Area Women Against Rape (BAWAR). We’ve carefully selected each beneficiary organization with our goals in mind and an emphasis on local outreach. Information on each organization will be available in the lobby of the show’s venue (Wheeler Auditorium) on show nights.
“The Vagina Monologues” and “Our Monologues” at UC Berkeley premieres in Wheeler Auditorium at 7 p.m. Feb. 16, 17 and 18. Tickets will be sold on Sproul Plaza as well as online in the weeks leading up to the show. Merchandise will be sold alongside tickets on Sproul and at the show! For more information, visit the Facebook page for V-Day at UC Berkeley.
We hope that everyone who attends the show takes away something personal and feels that they are an important part of our movement. This is the mission of “Our Monologues” and the future of V-Day at UC Berkeley.
Sheen Kachen and Rudy Brandt are staff members of “The Vagina Monologues” and “Our Monologues” production at UC Berkeley.