Taco. Beaver. Fanny. It’s the body part censored by a plethora of code names, but which half the population have. We sat down with the cast of Theatre iNQ’s The Vagina Monologues to find out more about the production ahead of its opening next week.
How are The Vagina Monologues presented?
Terri: Our cast includes nine women performing one monologue each, and four members of a band who are all male. It was originally performed by one woman doing all the monologues herself and now, more often than not, it’s done by three women who are usually all white and usually all about 20 years old. I wanted there to be much more cultural diversity, much more age diversity and, with the talent we have access to, why not have each monologue done by a different woman?
Was that a deliberate decision to involve four male musicians?
Terri: Absolutely! I am not a fan of the idea of feminism that doesn’t include men and so I’m very much for the fact that they need a voice at the table and need to be encouraged to join in the battle cry.
So what are some of the issues being tackled in The Monologues?
Jennine: Geez Louise!
Terri: Everything! Most of the speeches are about the ways that women have decided to self-hate and then discovering their love for the vagina, or their freedom to love themselves. I think they’re about that liberation really, and the joy in it and the discovery of it. Nim’s monologue is a beautiful one:
Nim: My monologue really shows off the power and the amazingness of the vagina in a way that it’s not always given credit for. It’s about looking at the vagina from a different angle to give it the respect and the admiration it well and truly deserves as an organ.
Why this show? It’s a bit out of the ordinary, even for Theatre iNQ.
Terri: I wanted to work with a whole bunch of women that I hadn’t worked with necessarily one-on-one. I also wanted to address, I suppose, the Me Too movement and the things that are affecting my life as a woman in the Arts. I always feel a great responsibility in the choices that I make for Theatre iNQ, that it’s about the community and what should the community see and what can we do well that the community can then have access to. This ticked every box for me in that respect.
How do The Monologues hold up in terms of the issues women face today?
Terri: There was some thinking that “OK, these Monologues are 20 years old now. Are they still relevant and how ground breaking are they now?”. When you watch a lot of female comedians on Netflix, as I do, they’re continuing to break new ground … being able to talk about your vagina with such bravery comes from this movement. The other important thing about us casting a multitude of women from different cultures and different age ranges is that – I hope – it will unite us as women across the board. A lot of our self-hatred is insidious, and we don’t know quite where it comes from, but it certainly continues within each other and we judge each other and pick on each other and are very unkind to each other and I think that’s changing.
Beth: The show doesn’t just cross the barriers, it pushes them down. That’s what we should all be doing today. There are so many problems in the world, that we should all be helping each other and not putting any barriers up. That’s what this does, I think.
Anna: I think it frees women from shame. That shame of being able to talk about your vagina, that shame of being able to say ‘I was hurt by a man’, freeing all of that shame and being able to find some sort of comfort in being able to talk about that with other women. No, not just women; being able to talk about that freely, without that judgement.
Terri: Yes! And the Vagina in the Vagina Monologues, symbolises what it is to be a woman. It’s been vilified for so long. It’s seen as ugly, unattractive, smelly, disgusting … We give it all these stupid names, so that we don’t say vagina and it’s like ‘What are we so hideously afraid of?’
Are you finding your own relationships with the word changing?
Terri: We’ve only just started rehearsals [at the time of this interview] and every rehearsal I had with the women today, we had a massive long conversation about our vaginas. Wonderful. I know so much about the women in this room! (all laugh) and it’s completely destigmatised the discussion already. And if that can continue through to the audience then that’s the best thing we can possibly achieve. Most good theatre promotes discussion, that’s how you know you’ve succeeded. Like when we’ve done shows about World War Two, people were compelled to come up and tell us about their grandfather in World War Two – it’s the need to share. I’m really excited about the post-show conversations from The Vagina Monologues (all laugh).
It’s courageous really. How do you all feel?
Rita: I’m looking forward to it. I’m normally cast for really light stuff so to be asked to do something that’s so important and so integral to being a woman is a big thing. It’s so much TMI even to speak with each other, because you have to discuss it so you can get to a place where you’re like ‘Oh, that’s what that bit in the script is about. Oh! I get that now, that makes sense!” It’s a big thing for us as actors and even a bigger thing to say to the audience “Take my hand, come with me, let’s explore our vaginas!”
Terri: I love that. When I leave the house I say “I’m going to work on Vagina.”
Jennine: When I asked my boss for a couple of weeks off I said “I’ve been asked to be in the Vagina Monologues. I’m gonna be in the Vagina Monologues. Can I have two weeks off to be in the Vagina Monologues” and she said “If you say that word one more time, you’re fired”. Now I call it The Begonia Monologues at work.
And how do you think audiences will take to the subject matter?
Nim: It’s something that especially this generation, where we are in the middle of the social media storm of the Me Too movement, it’s the right time to do it. But people who you wouldn’t expect are also excited for this to come about.
Terri: I hope men will come. I know they’ll be the minority, but I do hope they come.
Beth: They will! I read it to my husband and he just roared with laughter the whole way through and he finished up by saying “if you don’t want to do it, you go off to Paris or something, but I’m going to the show!” And he is 82.
Terri: I think men are far more relaxed talking about vaginas, but if they think it’s a big antimen project that’s when they turn away. It’s not that at all. It’s a really funny, humorous, very loving and gentle way to engage in these issues and, for the men, it’s like the Carole King song: this song is not about you! I think we’ll attract some new faces. I hope we do, but if nothing else…. I’m woke. That’s one down. It’s not every day that you get to do a show that is both a successful Broadway show, but also in your community is still actively doing its job in talking about taboo topics. On Broadway it’s probably yesterday’s news, but here, even in this room, these issues are still present in our lives and these stories still need to be told and they’re really fucking funny. And that humour packs a punch.
Catch The Vagina Monologues from 21 November – 2 December at Theatre iNQ, with tickets available from theatreinq.com