This year is the 20th anniversary of Eve Ensler's groundbreaking V-Day Campaign--a movement founded to increase awareness and raise money for anti-violence organizations using Ensler's "The Vagina Monologues" as a creative catalyst for change.
Fifteen years ago I was in St. Joseph, Minnesota at a small, private Catholic School.
Four senior theatre majors returned to the frozen tundra of Northern Minnesota well in advance of spring semester to begin rehearsals for our senior thesis. We'd decided at the beginning of the year to attempt to graduate with honors from the theatre department by staging "The Vagina Monologues" in conjunction with Ensler's V-Day campaign.
We'd spent the fall writing our proposal, getting clearance with the V-Day organization and clearing our project with our conservative school. It took special permission from the college president and the willingness of our advisor to back our mission but we finally, reluctantly, received the go-ahead. For a month we made the daily trek to an empty theatre building to rehearse and then home again to answer emails, make calls, and learn the art of producing guerilla-style.
We were two weeks away from opening when we started to get calls at home threatening not only academic expulsion but also our lives if we didn't shut down the production. We were told "The Vagina Monologues" was not appropriate to perform on a Catholic college campus and were forced to sit before the college president once more to plead our case.
By the time we opened, we not only had a sold-out run but were standing-room only. When the lights came up for curtain call, everyone was standing. For the rest of spring semester, we were stopped in halls, sent emails, and received calls all sharing personal stories about how our show and Ensler's words had changed their life.
Fifteen years ago feels like a world away to me now, but when I sat down at Manhattan Theatre Club for "In the Body of the World" I was transported back to my tiny dorm room in college when I fell in love with Eve Ensler's voice for the first time.
"In the Body of the World" is a critical piece of art. It's achingly funny, raw, real, heartbreaking and healing. The script and Ensler's performance supersedes the production in all senses, but it's hard to stage a solo piece without falling prey to the pitfalls of one-person shows. Director Paulus (and my favorite new director, Sammi Cannold) handle the piece well, but some of the production choices often feel forced or uncomfortable.
There are beautiful moments within the scope of the production, and the ending is particularly stunning; but the most impactful moments are when Ensler is simply, beautifully communing with the audience. In those moments we don't need flash or flair because all we need is what we have: Eve Ensler standing in front of us performing the words she's written. She has an extraordinary gift for grabbing you by the shoulders, shaking you and then enveloping you into a giant hug before she sends you back out into the world changed, and inspired to make change. This is, as far as I'm concerned the purpose of art, theatre and Ensler is masterful as such.
When the lights came up after curtain call, two women in the row in front of me stayed in their seats. They stared at the stage a moment and then one of the women turned to her companion and said, "How have I not heard her voice before?"
I wish I knew the answer to that question. I hope those women continue to seek Ensler's voice after hearing it for the first time. It's one we all need to hear.
Finally, I hope if you too haven't heard or seen Ensler's works that you make a point to see "In the Body of the World." Or read one of her scripts. Or participate in a V-Day campaign. I hear its life changing.