Every secret you know if you’ve performed The Vagina Monologues

You’ve yelled the word ‘Vagina!’ across campus more than once

Every year, colleges across the country perform a provocative, inspiring, and empowering play called The Vagina Monologues. Written by Eve Ensler in 1996, The Vagina Monologues is a famous theatre piece in which various female characters speak candidly about their perceptions of their vaginas and selves, in an ever evolving journey of self-love and acceptance.

The show also works to combat stigma surrounding female sexuality and to prevent acts of sexual violence. The experience of performing The Vagina Monologues is like no other and there are some things that any performer can tell you is integral to the dynamic performance process.

Dress rehearsal before UPenn Vagina Monologues 2016

Dress rehearsal before UPenn Vagina Monologues 2016

When you first hear about the show, you have no idea what it is

For a luck few who have been exposed to the show before entering college, it is an exciting opportunity to check off the theatrical bucket list. For others, it is completely foreign. Frankly, it seems little absurd. What do our vaginas even have to say? Let’s just say, you’re about to find out.

You go to your first rehearsal, and yell “VAGINA!”

Not everyone does this, but most people view it as a kind of initiation into The Vagina Monologues. Other acceptable exclamations are “Clitoris!” or “Pussy!”

When you first read the monologues, you are shocked but definitely have a favorite.

The Vagina Monologues certainly has a degree of shock value, since most TV shows or movies don’t explicitly address issues such as growing out public hair, the annoyance of tampons, or the perils of sexual assault. However, most performers find a monologue that they feel a deep connection towards that remains a favorite thought the rehearsal process. Nketchi Odulukwe , from the University of Pennsylvania, connected to the monologue my “My Short Skirt”.

“I connected with it so much because I’m used to hearing a lot of victim blaming.”

Nketchi said, “So it was great to tell an audience that no, a woman’s attire has nothing to do with how much respect she should be given and/or whether or not she deserves to be assaulted.”

Ali performing her monologue

Ali performing her monologue

You work hard. Really hard.

Performing The Vagina Monologues is no easy feat. It requires patience and time and a lot of hard work. Like any show, there are lines to memorize and cues to learn. Unlike any other show, the monologues material can be very personal and triggering. Ali Russo, from Lesley University, said: “Each time we met, we spoke of what it meant to be a woman in this society, and the importance of intersectionality in this work”.

Sophie Warren, from Brandies University, said: “During this 6 week process with 26 brilliant women, I learned exactly what Vagina Monologues was, who it had been built for, who it was neglecting, and saw the work Black feminists and feminists of color were doing on my campus to address this injustice.”

Meghana (right) in her saree for performance night

Meghana (right) in her saree for performance night

You don’t always connect with the monologues

Many performers say that in conjunction with having a favorite monologue, they also have a least favorite. When this happens, you are able to openly discuss the issues you have with the show’s text with your Vagina Monologue community and work towards a more inclusive solution.

A perfect example is Meghana Nallajerla-Yellapragada, a student and performer from the University of Pennsylvania, who did not feel her culture and identity were represented in the show. To counter this, she chose to wear a saree in the performance. “I always tell people the reason I wear a saree on stage to perform is because I feel like the words don’t represent me, so maybe at least my outfit will.”

Annie Fong, student at the University of Pennsylvania, advertises for The Vagina Monologues in the vagina suit

Annie Fong, student at the University of Pennsylvania, advertises for The Vagina Monologues in the vagina suit

To advertise for the show, you wear a vagina costume

Or sell vagina lollipops or cupcakes or buttons that say “Pussy power!” Every performance group makes this choice for themselves, and while you definitely have fun dancing around as a giant vagina, you also remember that not every woman has or even wants a vagina and their identity as a woman is no less valid. This is one of the greatest lessons you learn from the performance.

Brandies University performance of the Vagina Monologues

Brandies University performance of the Vagina Monologues

You perform a beautiful show

When the time comes, you walk onto stage, surrounded by new found friends and allies, and perform a moving, emotional, and deeply powerful show.

The show ends and you cry

You cry onstage. You cry offstage. You cry in your dorm. You cry in the dining hall. You cry a lot because you’ve done something that means to you than you ever would have imagined.

You begin a campaign to get all of your friends to audition next year

Because the only thing better than performing The Vagina Monologues is performing it with your best friends

Brandeis University cast of Vagina Monologues

Brandeis University cast of Vagina Monologues

You begin a new life of feminism and advocacy

For many, The Vagina Monologues is the first step towards a life that is filled to the brim with love, acceptance, and feminism. You know the show is not perfect and that it can be exclusionary to people of color, LBGT women, and the transgender community. But, thanks to your performance in the show, you are more confident in speaking about the issues, raising awareness of them, and working towards a more inclusive future for the show.

Sophie, from Brandies University said: “The work of this play guides all work I do today, and how I critique and attempt to better the spaces I am a part of, as well as the impacting role the arts can take in liberation work.”  Like Sophie, if the Vagina Monologues has taught you anything, it is to speak up, speak out, and speak often for change and equality in the world around you.