College plans free performances of empowering ‘Vagina Monologues’

There are many reasons why victims of sexual assault or abuse do not speak up, including a feeling of shame, disbelief or fear. So how do we get victims to talk?

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and the Sinclair Community College Theatre Department will present for free “The Vagina Monologues” by Eve Ensler April 9-10 in Blair Hall Theater at the downtown campus.

“The Vagina Monologues” is a play that explores women’s many sexual experiences, some good and some bad, and several other topics through the eyes of a diverse group of women. It premiered in 1996 and is one of the most popular performances that helps to celebrate and empower women.

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According to Gina Neuerer, chair and professor in the theater and dance department, the task of putting on this play that could be seen as difficult and somewhat controversial was a little daunting at first.

“For me personally, something I struggle with is do I want to take on something like this and direct my students in dealing with sexual violence. It’s a scary thing to take on, but if I am afraid of it, I should be doing it?” she said.

According to Neuerer, diversity is key to the performances. This was something she kept in the forefront of her mind while casting and choosing monologues.

“I felt it was important that we have a variety of voices of stage. While doing a read though of the monologues, my first reaction was it’s dated. Students won’t relate to it,” she said.

Originally, the play includes women sitting on stools who go up to the microphone and read their chosen monologue. Neuerer wanted to do things a little differently without changing anything of the playwright’s words.

“I wasn’t interested in that. I need to embrace the idea of a community of women coming together to share these stories and support and love each other,” she said.

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Sinclair’s production will include some updated monologues written by Ensler, and the format will be more like a conversation. Instead of one woman just reading one monologue, three or four women will read from one monologue.

“It will be almost like a dialogue. And that’s because one monologue might not just be one person’s story. It might be four people’s stories,” Neuerer said.

Neuerer received permission to use some of the newer monologues written by Ensler. The original content was a little old, and according to some of the cast, did not include certain groups of people.

“It didn’t include any transgender women, so they wanted to get representation and get a wider range of women in these parts. I was ecstatic about that because this is a good chance to get out there and have that voice heard. There’s a lot even I am still going through. It helps me. It helps others hopefully. It feels like these are stories that people need to hear,” said Sinclair Alumna Reagan Hyer.

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The cast is made up of current students, past students and even faculty members. The cast includes: Brianna Babel, Nikki Bentz, Lydia Dye, Kate Geiselman, Amanda Hayden, Reagan Hyer, Allante Johnson-Taylor, Mari Pullings, Bailey Rhonemus, Kathy Rowell, Samantha Van and Valkyrie Williams.

Some of the cast members were a little reluctant in the beginning, but quickly grew to love the experience of sharing these thoughts and experiences with other women.

“At first I wasn’t sure I wanted to do it. I didn’t know how comfortable I’d be with talking about vaginas on stage. But I thought if I am going to be in the theater world, I need to get this kind of experience. I need to be comfortable with stuff like this,” said Valkyrie Williams, a performance major.

Many of the cast members expressed that through the rehearsals, they have realized how important it is for women to speak up and listen to each other.

“There is such a big women empowerment movement right now. I describe myself as a feminist. It’s so important for women to speak up about what happens to them. A lot is happening in the world with women and the #meToo movement. We need to step out. We are women and not lesser,” said Nikki Bentz, performance major.

The group has been practicing and rehearsing over the last few weeks. They will only have a handful more of practices before the show. In all, just 13 rehearsals will occur before the show opens. Most shows have many more rehearsals.

One big part that the cast members need to tackle is memorizing every single monologue down to the word. It must be word for word. The group prepares for shows differently. Some are more physical while some are more contemplative. However, all of them are excited.

“I’m excited and a little nervous. Memorization is harder now than it used to be. But when you have the energy of the other people, stuff just starts happening,” said Kate Geiselman, who is a professor in the English department.

Beyond the three shows, there will be a panel of women after the 7 p.m. show to have a discussion about any issues that they or the audience want to discuss. There will also be 15 different community organizations as well as featured artwork created by women.

“The show might bring something out in someone, so they will have people to talk to and resources. It’s important that we continue the conversation. The play starts the conversation,” said Neuerer.

The whole idea of starting a conversation is just what this show is about and is a big reason why people should come see it. While some of the material may be difficult to listen to, it’s important they do.

“The problems aren’t solved. The problems the monologues brought up in the ‘80s are still happening today. Way too often. I want the audience and performers to walk away from this with a sense of shock, a sense of aww and empowerment from the ladies and their stories. A weight and responsibility. That’s what it’s about. It’s the future;  it’s about going on from this point and going upward,” said Hyer.

The free performances are Tuesday, April 9 at 3:30 or 7 p.m. and Wednesday, April 10 at 12:30 p.m. A Q&A on women’s issues with panel guests follow the 7 p.m. performance on April 9.

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