By Pat Launer
In February, our thoughts turn to VD. That would be Valentine’s Day. But there’s another kind of V-Day commemoration happening in San Diego and worldwide.
Ensler herself starred in the original Off Broadway production. In 1998, she and others launched V-Day, a global non-profit movement that has raised over $100 million for groups working to end violence against women and girls. The organization has also educated millions about the issue of violence against women and the efforts to end it; crafted international educational, media and PSA campaigns; reopened shelters; and funded more than 13,000 community-based anti-violence programs and safe-houses in Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya and Iraq.
Every February, Ensler makes the Obie Award-winning script available for benefit performances which have taken place annually around the world, with proceeds going to organizations that help women in crisis. The movement continues to be energized and mobilized by the staggering statistic that one in three women and one in six men will be victims of domestic violence or sexual assault in their lifetimes. That’s one billion women violated, which instigated a companion movement called One Billion Rising.
In “The Vagina Monologues,” based on Ensler’s 200+ interviews, women of all ages, ethnicities and sexual identities tell their stories about aspects of the feminine experience, touching on issues of puberty, body image, love, rape, relationship, orgasm, birth, and so much more.
In 2006, Charles Isherwood of The New York Times called it “probably the most important piece of political theater of the last decade.”
Locally, Carla Nell, co-founder (with Kym Pappas) of InnerMission Productions, has been organizing and directing productions of “The Vagina Monologues” for the past 17 years, first at San Diego State University, and then through her own company which, in 2016, the San Diego Theatre Critics Circle gave the Don Braunagel Award for Outstanding Work by a Small Theater Company.
“I do V-Day every year because I am an adult survivor of childhood physical and sexual abuse,” says Nell. “And I do V-Day for the women and girls and men and boys who have survived. And I do it especially for those who haven’t.
“Before there was #MeToo,” Nell continues, “there was V-Day, and I once told Eve Ensler, in a public restroom at a workshop she hosted for V-Day organizers in California, that I, like her, would not stop #untiltheviolencestops.”
Over the years, the San Diego V-Day Warriors, as Nell and Pappas call them, have raised over $150,000 for local organizations working to end physical and sexual violence.
Pappas, who has participated in V-Day events as an actor, director or producer, says, “I consider myself blessed to be a witness to it all. We have several people who have participated in various ways year after year, as volunteers, writers, directors or actors.”
This season, 14 women and 11 men are involved in staging the “Monologues.” Sixteen of the 25 have themselves been victims of abuse.
Some of the stories you hear in “The Vagina Monologues” are in the voices of a 6 year-old girl, a septuagenarian New Yorker, a vagina workshop participant, a Bosnian survivor of rape, and a woman who was awed by witnessing the birth of her granddaughter.
Ten years ago, Arizona-based writer/speaker/performer Derek Dujardin got the idea of creating a men’s version of “The Vagina Monologues,” in order to “get guys to care about gender violence.”
InnerMission was the first to get on board. This is the 10th incarnation of “The MENding Monologues,” a 90-minute show that includes first-person monologues, sketch comedy and hard-hitting slam poetry that creates a healing, ‘therapeutic’ experience for both audience and performers (some of whom write their own highly personal material for the presentation).
“There is a script available for ‘The MENding Monologues,’” Pappas explains, “but one of the best things about this piece is that Derek Dujardin gives each company artistic license to write their own monologues and essentially create their own show.
“Our MENders have written pieces about topics ranging from body hair to what it means to ‘man up.’ They write about current events (it’s unfortunate that the world is forever giving us new material). They have written about loving survivors; they have written their own stories of survival.
“This season, because it’s our 10th ‘MENding,’ the men have written a brand new show. We’ve been talking a lot about accountability, about silence, about healing. We’ve been talking about the #metoo movement and the seemingly endless list of perpetrators. We’ve been talking about online dating. We’ve been talking about consent. We’ve been paying attention, we’ve been listening. We hope folks will come out to watch and listen, too.”
There’s a great deal of crossover in the audience. Men are intrigued by “The Vagina Monologues,” and women are inspired by “The MENding Monologues.”
“I think we have a lot to learn from each other,” says Pappas. “I know that a lot of men are nervous about coming to ‘The Vagina Monologues.’ I’ve heard numerous times that they think it’s a vehicle for ‘man-bashing.’ It’s not. At their core, both ‘The Vagina Monologues’ and ‘The MENding Monologues’ are about giving voice to the things we don’t talk about as a society.
“The stories are deeply personal, often heartbreaking and sometimes hilarious. The astronomical statistics of abuse mean means that each of us knows and/or loves a survivor. It’s also highly likely that we each love someone who has perpetrated abuse. Think about that. We show up every year because there is power in telling your story, and in bearing witness to the stories of others.”
As the InnerMissionites put their Power to the People message: “V to the 20th!”
- “V-DAY 2018,” presented by InnerMission Productions, runs Feb. 16-17 in the Diversionary Black Box, 4545 Park Boulevard in University Heights
- “The Vagina Monologues” is performed on Saturday, Feb. 17, at 2 p.m. and 9 p.m.
- “The MENding Monologues” performances are Friday, Feb. 16, at 8 p.m. and Saturday, Feb. 17, at 7 p.m.
- Tickets ($21) are available at innermissionproductions.org
Pat Launer is a long-time San Diego arts writer and an Emmy Award-winning theater critic. An archive of her previews and reviews can be found at patlauner.com.
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