VDAY opens dialogue on violence with performances

“20 per cent play, 80 per cent activism.”

That is how Irene Zielinski, a performer in UBC VDAY’s productions of The Vagina Monologues and A Memory, A Monologue, A Rant and A Prayer (MMRP), explained the performances. While activism is obvious in the productions, it never feels like you are being preached to, instead the performances aim, and succeed, in encouraging dialogue about violence against women and other social justice issues.

VDAY transformed the SUB ballroom into a quaint and intimate performance area. Around the edges of the room were small exhibits exploring the issues discussed in the performances. These range from the interactive “gender-bread person” to a poster with a list of ideas on how to fight oppression on a daily basis. A free tea booth is unsurprisingly the most popular. The money raised through ticket and chocolate sales went to the Sexual Assault Support Centre, Women Against Violence Against Women and the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre.

Without the high tech gadgetry of the Chan Centre to rely on, VDAY used a few small speakers and light stands with exposed wires. The stage was similarly minimalistic, with no more than a few chairs onstage as props. This low tech, low budget setup was rarely felt and doesn’t get in the way, instead creating an atmosphere that feels personal, safe and inclusive; the perfect setup to initiation discussion.

Unexpectedly, the two performances could not be more different. Vagina Monologues, directed by Giselle Miller, has everyone in tears of laughter. It achieves this through a dozen or so onstage orgasms -- orgasms that would put Meg Ryan’s Sally to shame. Laughing is nearly nonstop throughout the performance and climaxes with a sex worker’s impressions of different women’s moans. All are spot on and sidesplitting. But don't be fooled by the lighthearted tone of Monologues, it packs a serious punch, tackling issues from rape to female genital mutilation.

MMRP also reduces the audience to tears but not ones of laughter. It starts off heavy and refuses to let up, telling the stories of attempted rape, gang rape, political sexual violence and domestic violence. These scenes of unimaginable cruelty are punctuated with scenes of playground bullying.

“It was this random stroke of genius I had one afternoon,” said MMRP director and fourth-year political science student Kelly Gerlings. “I didn't have a way of tying everything together when I was working on the show. I think the idea of children’s voices is really haunting and also really necessary when we are talking about violence in general and specifically violence against women.”

Gerlings chose the monologues for the show (directors are given a shortlist of 40 to pick from) to represent experiences of violence against women across the globe.

After the shows, the cast and directors came out to talk to the audience in what they called a talkback. It was less of a talkback and more of a back and forth conversation between the performers and the audience about women’s issues, the performances themselves and how the actors related to the material. A major topic was the shortcoming’s of the plays, especially how quickly they age. But everyone agreed that the purpose of the plays was to start a dialogue, and the performances did just that.

“Anyone can come out, anyone can benefit from these shows,” said VDAY co-coordinator and treasurer Noni Nabors. “It’s such a college show. When people hear of The Vagina Monologues they think of college activism. The issues that both of these shows talk about are really, really relevant on campus today.”

Anyone can come out, and should. Monologues and MMRP serve as a great first step into understanding feminism in an approachable, (mostly) nonacademic and entertaining way. For the more experienced, the performances raise dozens of complex and intricate questions that they encourage the audience to discuss. All of the proceeds from VDAY will go to organizations that help to stop gendered and sexual violence.

The performances, which will be performed as a double bill on Valentines Day, are a great option, with or without a date. Amusing, informative, funny and emotional, plus there are vaginas. Lots of vaginas.