Vagina Monologues’ opens its arms, legs to audience

Janette Neuwahl

Dressed in a silky black corset, satin blood-red gloves and a matching choker, Speech sophomore Elizabeth Clinard demonstrated 20 different types of moans women make while experiencing an orgasm, including the “right-on-it moan,” the “WASP moan” and even the “mountain-top moan,” where she perched herself atop a stool and yodeled.

Clinard’s performance was one of 12 monologues presented in Women’s Coalition’s production of “The Vagina Monologues” for a sold-out crowd of more than 1,000 people at Pick-Staiger Concert Hall on Friday night. The 13 cast members looked at vaginas from a variety of perspectives – often to roaring approval from the audience.

“It’s a really powerful (show),” said audience member Alix Fenhagen, a Speech sophomore. “It’s great to see how a bunch of college-aged girls can grab onto such issues that all the characters in the monologues do.”

In its third year at NU, “The Vagina Monologues” is the centerpiece of a movement to increase awareness of violence committed against women called V-Day, where Valentine’s Day is used to highlight domestic and international women’s issues.

“This is a cause that needs to be talked about, explained and explored,” said Women’s Co Director Laura Millendorf, a Weinberg junior. “‘The Vagina Monologues’ is a fantastic vehicle and springboard for other activism events we’ve been doing.”

Noreen Khalid, the show’s director, said the production is updated every year following ongoing interviews with women. Monologues addressing violence against women in Afghanistan and discussing one woman’s desire to wear a short skirt without criticism were new this year.

Vivian Chiu, a Speech graduate student from Taiwan, played a girl with an “angry” vagina. Chiu, who has lived in the United States for six months, said the acceptance of even the show’s name would not be grasped in her country.

“The vagina is something we don’t speak of in Taiwan,” Chiu said. “Being in ‘The Vagina Monologues’ is very special for me because this is my first performance on campus and in this country. The fact that we can talk about it here is really important and I hope that someday the Taiwanese will be able to talk about it in public.”

As one of the show’s three narrators, Speech sophomore Jennifer Snowden provided interludes to the monologues, such as girls’ recollections of their first periods and details of a vagina’s smell.

“When I read the script it kind of made me nervous about certain monologues because it would be a really new experience for me, but it allowed me to find out about stuff not normally talked about that I wasn’t comfortable with,” Snowden said. “Being in the show helped me get over that so it wasn’t such a taboo issue anymore.”

Since NU began staging the monologues two years ago, the play has grown to challenge Northwestern’s alleged student apathy, Millendorf said.

“The first time we did it, it was in the Gathering Place in Norris,” she said. “It was free and was really grassroots and low-key. We didn’t know it was going to be successful but it ballooned into this huge thing and after that we moved to a larger venue.”

To prepare for the production, Khalid, a Speech junior, traveled to a V-Day workshop at Harvard University in December where playwright Eve Ensler discussed the monologues with about 200 college directors. To ensure all funds generated from the show went to charity, Khalid paid to attend the workshop herself.

“Our budget is dramatically lower than any other production on campus,” Khalid said. Actresses bought their own costumes and programs were hand-copied and folded.

Women’s Co donated most of the funds to Evanston’s YWCA and the rest to the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan, V-Day’s main charity this year. Millendorf estimated the performance took in about $10,000, but the group has not yet subtracted costs and determined the profit.

Khalid said the cast was able to help audience members relate to the different women’s stories.

“Using art as activism at the college level can reach a lot of people just due to the content of the show,” Khalid said. “People can’t just walk away not feeling anything.”

Even vagina-challenged members of the audience said they enjoyed the show’s message.

“I came into (the show) thinking it would be the worst thing in life and I loved it,” said Philip Joseph, a McCormick senior. “It was very humorous and was open to both sexes. Even the dramatic events both sexes could understand.”