Last February, University of Alaska Southeast freshman Dani Byers attended Perseverance Theatre's production of Eve Ensler's play "The Vagina Monologues" by herself. She couldn't convince any of her friends, mostly guys, she said, to attend.
"Afterward I really wished I would have brought my mother or my grandmother," Byers said. "I just think going with an older woman would be an amazing insight. The whole idea of vaginas has been hushed down. My grandmother grew up in the 1920s, so you can imagine what it must have been like then."
Byers is one of eight young women in the University of Alaska Southeast's presentation of "The Vagina Monologues," 8 p.m. Thursday-Sunday, Feb. 26-28, at the UAS Student Activities Center. The performance is part of the V-Day College Campaign, a movement to present the play at college campuses around the world to raise money to stop violence against women. Proceeds from the UAS show will go to Juneau's AWARE shelter.
V-Day began in 1998, inspired by Ensler's play. The movement has raised more than $20 million worldwide in six years. For more, visit www.vday.org.
"When the play first began, it was Eve telling these stories, and now the play has morphed into this sort of movement of women taking back these words that are used derogatorily," said play co-organizer Anna Gagne-Hawes, a UAS freshman. "It's about women accepting power, accepting freedom. In one evening, it breaks down so many barriers and so many taboos."
Perseverance Theatre associate artistic director Anita Maynard-Losh staged a one-night performance of the play at Centennial Hall last February, two days after Valentine's Day 2003. The presentation starred three actresses - Jane Garritson, Alanna Malone and Tuyet Thi Pham - and raised money for the V-day National Campaign, separate from the college campaign.
"Perseverance had to deal with a lot of ground that I didn't have to deal with in calling people and calling businesses," Gagne-Hawes. "In some ways, since it was already done and it was such a a big hit, it's okay to support it. It's not as taboo in Juneau as it was a year ago."
Still, organizing the play has not been simple.
"Anna came to our organization and asked us for some funding to buy supplies," said Hamilton, student-body president at UAS. "We had to pass a bill and get it voted on by the Student Senate. Three of the senators, who are very conservative, very religious, biblical-minded, they pretty much said, 'We do support women, and we think it's great that the money is going to the AWARE shelter. But some of the monologues are very disturbing.' I think people sometimes get very blinded by what some pieces say than what the actual message means."
To be honest, much of the language can be brutal and explicit. The monologues include scenes of rape, domestic violence and assault, as well as lighter topics.
"The details of some of the more violence pieces is just like watching a car wreck," Hamilton said. "You can't take your eyes away from it, yet you know you're going to have that image in your mind for a long time. You feel wounded that it's happening, and you're wondering, 'What can I do?' It's a heavy piece, but at the same time, it's extremely educational."
For the cast, the play is a chance to talk about subjects that have been taboo, even for their generation.
"I thought I had a pretty liberal upbringing, but the discussion about vaginas was purely anatomical," Byers said. "Growing up, going through body changes, you just didn't talk about it. At least for me, there was no opportunity to talk about it with your friends, about what the hell is going on. We didn't talk about the idea that vaginas could have these personalities, the way that these women talk about it."
"They were functional," Hamilton said, "not fun."
For cast member Lily Hudson, a few of the pieces hit home.
"There's this piece about a woman who is new to the orgasm, or at least she had an orgasm in early life and then shut down to it. In some ways, I can relate to that. It's almost therapy to go talk about it and to be able to perform it on-stage."
"I like the effect it has on the audience," she said. "It makes them think. It makes them rethink. And it makes them feel. You can't watch 'The Vagina Monologues' and not re-evaluate how you feel, or how you talk about the vagina."