It’s been 22 years since Eve Ensler’s episodic play “The Vagina Monologues” first hit the stage, and 20 years since she was behind helping launch V Day, a global movement to end violence against women and girls. An Island production of “The Vagina Monologues” will be onstage at the Old Whaling Church at 7:30 pm on Sunday, Feb. 11.
Ensler’s play tackles topics like sexual experiences — both consensual and nonconsensual — body image, reproduction, genital mutilation, and other similar topics experienced by women of various ages, races, sexual preferences, and other differences. The Island Theatre Workshop, celebrating its 50th anniversary this summer, is putting on the performance with a cast of 10 Island women directed by ITW’s artistic director Kevin Ryan.
“It has been educational and fun and really thought-provoking for a guy to work with 10 women, especially with intimate subject matter,” Ryan said. “It’s been really interesting, and I’ve loved almost every minute of it. I’ve seen this group form a band of sisterhood, and it’s truly been amazing.”
ITW is donating its services, and the proceeds from ticket sales will benefit Friends of Family Planning and Martha’s Vineyard Community Services’ Connect to End Violence.
Jennifer Knight, now on the board of directors of ITW and formerly a president of Friends of Family Planning, brought the idea to ITW, and it was immediately embraced. She’s the production manager for ITW’s “The Vagina Monologues.”
Knight said she began her own personal journey a couple of Octobers ago when she went to a class on the Arvigo techniques of Maya abdominal therapy, a sort of mind-body massage therapy that focuses on the uterus as the center of a woman’s body. The massage technique repositions internal organs that have shifted. Currently she leads the Island group Mamas Ignite, helping other moms connect with their inner creativity and power.
“There’s some really horrific experiences women have had,” Knight said. “To give light to those and to raise awareness really touched me personally. There are so many instances in which women have been victims — or see themselves as victims. My hope is that this brings them empowerment through speaking truths, and there are many different truths out there.”
The truth, Knight explained, oftentimes comes out unfiltered and raw and not with a lot of consideration, sometimes through moaning, screaming, or defensiveness. By allowing herself to speak clearly and truthfully, the expression of truth comes through grace, Knight said.
“When I allow myself to love myself and allow myself to speak, then comes grace and a place from which we speak from self-love,” Knight explained. “Then I’m able to speak so that people can hear me better. At first when we’re angry, we’re maybe not heard as well.”
For Ryan, watching and listening to the women has left a profound impact. He said violence is not just a women’s issue — there are men who are brutalized and abused — but this particular play and this particular time deals specifically with female abuse and coming of age.
“It’s so profound that I’ve had the luxury of watching them,” he said. “You can see that these women have been impacted in the monologue, and they’ve fought and survived and created a whole new way of life.”
Knight said the subject matter of the play is likely appropriate for girls 16 or older, saying that she’s the mother of two young boys ages 3 and 9, and perhaps not as in tune with what’s going on with young girls.
“In some respects, I think young girls won’t be surprised necessarily,” Knight said. “I used to be a teacher, but I don’t think I have my pulse on teenagers right now, but they’re exposed to a lot more than I ever was.”
Knight said her experience in middle school was one of competition and bullying between girls:
“I would love for young people to see other women in their power as someone they can join together with and have a sisterhood, something collaborative instead of competitive. Out of these rehearsals we feel a comradery; this sisterhood has emerged. I would hope that energy spreads to the broader community.”
“The Vagina Monologues” stars Susan Wysocki, Binnie Ravitch, Christine Ferrone, Jennifer Knight, Alyson Parker, Corrine Kurtz, Mary Giordano, April White, Joyce Maxner, and Scarlet Snow Johnson. Tickets are $50 for premium seating and $25 for general admission. They can be purchased by calling 508-221-2615, and will also be available at the door. In March, Mamas Ignite plans to offer a follow-up discussion and events.