What’s the harm in just saying the word? Every woman has one, so why not celebrate it?
That was part of Valerie Cardinal’s thought process when she auditioned for The Vagina Monologues at Concordia this year. The 20-year-old journalism student had seen a production of the show a while back and knew it was something she wanted to be part of. After having unsuccessfully auditioned two years ago for a production outside of Concordia, Cardinal felt privileged to be accepted this year.
However, compared to the amount she has learned through rehearsal, Cardinal considered herself a newbie when she auditioned. ” I really only read the script before the audition,” she said. “I was pretty much a Vagina Monologues virgin when I auditioned and now I’m very well-versed.”
Cardinal, who wouldn’t consider herself a shy person, was uncomfortable saying the word vagina when she first got the part. “When people would ask me what show I was rehearsing, I would say it really shyly,” Cardinal said, mimicking the tone in near whisper. Only after some group discussion with the cast, and the rehearsal of the show itself, did Cardinal become comfortable with the six-letter word.
“The other day I stood out in the hallways giving out shortbread cookies shaped like vaginas [to promote the show],” she said. “I’m not shy anymore.” Cardinal doesn’t think twice about mentioning the word now, it is so ingrained in her vocabulary. “Over the past couple of months, I’ve said the word vagina more times than in my whole life.”
Rhea Nelken, 26, said she wasn’t embarrassed, but daunted when she was first given the opportunity to direct the show this year. “It’s daunting because it is a large issue, Nelken said, “and [it] deals with a vagina as a sexual part but also a means for violence and war.”
For her production, Nelken wants to focus on the bond of sisterhood, which she says can be lost in today’s patriarchal society. “The message of the Vagina Monologues and the issue of women’s rights are still pertinent today,” she said. ” The day we don’t need the monologues…is the day [women around the world] are not oppressed.”
The play, written by Eve Ensler and first performed off-Broadway in 1996, has also become an important philanthropic instrument. Proceeds for almost every production of the show worldwide go towards organizations aimed to prevent violence against women. Concordia’s production is no different, with ticket sales going directly to the Native Woman’s Shelter in Montreal and City of Joy, a safehouse that helps women in the Congo.
Cardinal thinks that, above all, it is important to use the play as a tool for social change. “We are raising money for important issues,” she said, “there is so much rape in the Congo now- it’s pretty much a tactic of war.”
Cardinal is performing two monologues in the show- her favorite being “Because He Liked to Look At It”- about a woman who learns to love her vagina after a sexual experience with a man who liked to spend hours looking at it. Cardinal says she relates to the monologue firsthand because she has had a similar experience with a past relationship, and says that many of the actresses in the show feel the same way.
Nelken invites everyone, no matter what gender, to come see the show. She even extends the invite to children; “I would say a 13-year-old, or someone in puberty, should come see the show,” she said. “Although I wasn’t very censored as a child.”
Concordia’s The Vagina Monologues plays DB Clarke Theatre, in the Hall Building on March 20 at 7:30 p.m. and on March 21 at 1:30 and 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $12 or $10 in advance for students and $15 or $13 in advance for non-students. For more information, visit viaconcordia.ca.