Creative Campus topic: The Power of Theatre in Advocacy

Twelve years ago, Lehigh University launched its first production of the Vagina Monologues. Over the years, the Women’s center has continued to support the students who participate the annual production. The production is completely student led with support of many programs on campus. This year’s supporting programs are The Women’s Center, ArtsLehigh, and Student Auxiliary Services.

The Vagina Monologues is an episodic play written by Eve Ensler which ran at the Off Broadway Westside Theatre after a limited run at AFRICA in 1996. Ensler originally starred in the production which was produced by David Stone, Nina Essman, Dan Markley, The Araca Group, Willa Shalit, Mike Skipper and the West Side Theater. When she left the play it was recast with three celebrity monologists. The production has been staged internationally, and a television version featuring Ensler was produced by cable TV channel HBO. In 1998, Ensler and others, including Willa Shalit, a producer of the Westside Theatre production, launched V-Day, a global non-profit movement that has raised over $75 million for women’s anti-violence groups through benefits of The Vagina Monologues. (note from  “From Superdome to SUPERLOVE—V-Day at 10” by Marianne Schnall – January 30, 2008)

V-Day is a global movement to end violence against women and girls that raises funds and awareness through benefit productions of Playwright/Founder Eve Ensler’s award-winning play “The Vagina Monologues.”  In 2005, more than 2500 V-Day events took place in the U.S. and around the world. To date, V-Day has raised over $30 million and educated millions about the issue of violence against women and the efforts to end it; crafted international educational, media and PSA campaigns; reopened shelters; funded safe houses in Kenya, South Dakota, Egypt and Iraq, and over 5000 community-based anti-violence programs. The ‘V’ in V-Day stands for Victory, Valentine and Vagina (Note: www.vday.org)

So what does all of this history mean to our students? Lehigh University student Jesse Leigh McAleer is  involved in this year’s production. She says,

Today, I met for the first time with my amazing monologue coach, Noelle [Noelle Smart: one of the student directors] I’m doing the monologue, “What if I told you I did not have a vagina.” Through the whole first half of our practice Noelle kept telling me that it was good, but that it needed to be sadder and sadder and sadder. I was really struggling for a while, and then she pointed out two things. The first referred to one of my lines. I say ‘There are many of us. Thousands mutilated, closed, cast out.’ She looked at me and said, “You know, I don’t think she is just talking about the Congo….” The second this that she said was this: “You are doing this monologue for all of these women. You are being their voice.” Something in that really clicked with me. I was able to dig down to all those emotions I have that I’m always trying to push away and forget about, and I cried throughout my entire run through of my monologue. This really has me thinking. This is what our show is about. It’s about calling attention to survivors everywhere. And I really want to thank each and every one of you for doing this show for whichever reason you have, because we really are doing something great.

I could write about how this statement hits many of the goals of our institutional strategic plan – or perhaps we can all reflect on how the opportunity for her to participate in this activity at Lehigh University has awakened a deeper sense of her own humanity and growing concern for others around the globe. It is through her art making that she came to this awareness. How proud are we?

The Vagina Monologues will run February 10-12 in Packard Auditorium. For more information, please see their website.

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