For CWO, V-Day isn’t over

By Sierra Starks

Pitt’s Campus Women’s Organization will carry on feminist playwright Eve Ensler’s 17-year tradition by saying that your vagina and your voice matter, no matter your circumstances. Pitt CWO Presents Eve Ensler’s “The Vagina Monologues”

Thursday, ThursdayFeb. 17- through Saturday, Feb. Saturday19

7:30 p.m.

Free for Pitt undergraduate students ($5 suggested donation)

Pitt’s Campus Women’s Organization will carry on feminist playwright Eve Ensler’s 17-year tradition by saying that your vagina and your voice matter, no matter your circumstances.

Members of the group will perform monologues based on interviews Ensler conducted with more than 200 different women, addressing women’s sexuality and the social stigma surrounding rape, abuse and other relevant topics.

The co-directors of CWO’s annual production of “The Vagina Monologues,” sophomores Teresa Qiu and Gina Roussos, haven’t studied theater professionally, but they came together as two students with a common goal at hand.

“We’re trying to raise awareness about sexual violence against women around the world while also celebrating women and their undying strength,” Roussos said.

The event this year begins with a showing today at 7:30 p.m. and continues nightly through Saturday.

“The Vagina Monologues” is “one of the most controversial and relevant theatre pieces of the last decade,” the Associated Press said.

Pitt theater professor Kathleen George said that years ago, when Ensler performed “The Vagina Monologues” at Pitt, some couldn’t handle the reality of it.

“There were male students in the audience who were so freaked out by the material, they got up and left,” George said, adding that society has come a long way since then. “[Ensler] wanted to ask, why is there this part of a woman’s body that people are afraid to talk about?”

“Even though we live in a really liberated culture, ‘The Vagina Monologues’ breaks that barrier,” Qiu said. Ensler encourages women to talk about their menstrual cycles, their first times having sex and all instances in-between to use their vaginas as their voices.

Lisa Jackson-Schebetta, assistant professor in the Department of Theatre Arts,  has both acted in and directed “The Vagina Monologues” in previous years. She said she disagrees with its reputation as “controversial.”

“I am always taken aback when ‘The Vagina Monologues’ are hailed as controversial,” she said. “Yes, ‘vagina’ is in the title. Yes, the content is intense. But the very fact that the show appears controversial … points to the very reasons it needs to [appear on stage],” she said.

Jackson-Schebetta began to address the reality that many “Vagina Monologues” productions are involuntarily canceled, protested against or produced in secret out of necessity. She thinks this is a problem.

“Theater asks us to empathize, to see the world through the eyes of another being, to meet another with compassion,” she said.

Many of the subjects featured can be difficult to address. Qiu and Roussos had to find a way to effectively stage the topics of violence, silence, shame, racism and sexism while incorporating the themes of healing, community building, supporting your fellow woman and becoming a global citizen.

Roussos said it wasn’t the easiest task for theatrical amateurs. “Teresa and I don’t have experience as theatrical directors,” she said, adding that her experience in theater extends to a few plays in the past and Qiu took part in last year’s “Monologues.”

“So for us when even the simplest question of, ‘What do you want your set to look like?’ came up, it was hard for [Qiu and I] to even begin to think about what a set entails or how we wanted our actors to be placed on the stage,” she said.

“We were limited by our own lack of artistic vision,” Qiu added, saying that she and Roussos sought help from the play’s director’s notes and CWO executive board members who had been directors of the show in the past. “We were also limited by the lack of resources available.”

Another difficulty is that David Lawrence Hall is no theater hall. Qiu and Roussos lack a real backstage area and a real curtain and backdrop, among other practical things.

But they have a stage and 24 Pitt students willing to share another woman’s story with whoever would listen.

Qiu warns the audience that these Pitt students won’t be “acting too much.”

“It’s more of the actor telling another woman’s story and less of them becoming that character,” Roussos said. “There’s no getting inside the character like you would in traditional theater,” she said. That difference called for the opportunity to refocus the goals Qiu and Roussos originally had for the production.

“We were forced to approach [the “Monologues”] with a completely different mindset,” Qiu said. “This is nothing extravagant like ‘High School Musical.’ It’s real.”

There are no costumes, and actors are required to keep the script, as cue cards, on stage with them, free from the restraints of traditional theater.

Sheleah Harris, a Pitt student and performer in this year’s show, says that she’s been involved in theater since she was 10 years old, but this experience and the creative liberties within have allowed her to have fun with theater, something she said she hasn’t had the chance to do in quite a while. “It’s like introducing the art of theater to me all over again,” she said.

Harris hopes that the fun that she’s having with the show transfers to her audience. She also warns that the show is unpredictable, to say the least.

“Yes, some of the subject matter is taboo and the show has its uncomfortable moments, but at other times, it’s a truly funny show,” she said.

Professor George noted, “Some plays aim to soothe and entertain. Others engage us in a puzzle or work our emotions and bring us to tears. Another one of the functions of theater is jolting people out of complacency or fixed notions. ‘Vagina Monologues’ was born to do that.”