For the women involved, this weekend’s The Vagina Monologues is more than just a show.
Although the episodic play by Eve Ensler is performed every year on campus, it’s never exactly the same. The personal stories of the women behind the production transform The Vagina Monologues from a rehearsed play to a unique experience for every woman who takes part, College sophomore Isabel Friedman said.
“The show changes dramatically from year to year, based on the women who are performing the monologues,” she added. A member of the cast this year, Friedman first got involved with The Vagina Monologues last year, working on crew.
While Friedman has been part of the production since her freshman year, other students got involved in the show this year not as a welcome to Penn, but as a farewell.
“I went to the audition for a bunch of years but couldn’t get myself to read any of the monologues,” College senior Rebecca Cook said. Her decision to finally read was “more of a realization that I can’t do it after this year.”
What she didn’t fully realize, though, was that her involvement with The Vagina Monologues would go beyond the production.
The community that forms through the rehearsal meetings “is unlike anything at Penn,” College senior and Vagina Monologues director Maya Tepler said. It’s “safe in a way that’s hard to find,” she added.
“There are lots of women’s groups on campus and even sororities,” she said. “But then you get this group of women, and they open up in a way that’s really incredible and really special.”
“It’s not just a show,” College sophomore Ali Kriegsman said. “You really build a vagina community.”
Many women have personal stories that inspired their involvement.
“One of my friends was actually a victim of sexual assault,” said College sophomore Anna Tommasini, who is working on crew. “Seeing her go through that process made me want to be there for her in another way and contribute to something larger.”
For College freshman Antonia Piccone, a particular woman in her life inspired her to participate in The Vagina Monologues.
“She is from Kenya, and she was a victim of female genital mutilation,” Piccone said. “She has kind of become a role model for me.”
Piccone said she never knew she would have the opportunity to speak for her role model on stage. However, when she showed up to auditions and shared her story, she was told that one of the monologues was about female circumcision.
“It was extremely hard to get through,” she said. “But now I feel like I’m speaking on behalf of her.”
Although College sophomore Ansley Sawyer “auditioned on a whim,” like many of the girls, she is enthusiastic about the fundraising aspect of the production.
“It’s not just women getting out their feminist energy — we’re supporting something real,” Sawyer said.
“Something real” is Women Organized Against Rape, the only rape crisis organization in Philadelphia which will receive all the proceeds from this year’s Vagina Monologues.
“The money that the Penn Vagina Monologues raises basically pays the salary for one staff person for an entire year,” Friedman added.
Apart from the fundraiser, some of the women have forged a deeper personal connection with women’s rights through their involvement with The Vagina Monologues.
College sophomore Humna Bhojani hopes to speak on behalf of the women of an entire country.
“I really want to take this back to Pakistan,” she said, referring to her home country. “There’s so much violence against women, and there is no accountability.”
“I may want to translate it into Urdu and raise awareness of the violence there that is on such a different level,” she continued.
The Vagina Monologues, Tepler said, are meant to be “not just entertaining and enlightening for the audience, but cathartic for the actors.”
“So much comes from the heart of people who are onstage, who are undergrads and Penn students,” Cook said. “I hope people will leave feeling the smallest sense of distance possible.”
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