Friday, February 12, 2010

Coochie Coochie: Three Questions with Vagina Monologues Director P. Elizabeth Cawein

Posted By on Fri, Feb 12, 2010 at 9:32 AM

Eve Ensler's Vagina Monologues are back and here's what the show's director P. Elizabeth Cawein has to say for herself.

Intermission Impossible: V-Day performances usually benefit organizations working to end violence against women. Who benefits this go-round?

P. Elizabeth Cawein: Our proceeds locally are going to Planned Parenthood Greater Memphis Region. The decision was an extremely personal one for our cast, as many of the actresses have had very positive experiences with the support and advocacy of the organization. In addition to PPGMR, each year a spotlight campaign is chosen by Eve Ensler, and that campaign receives 10 percent of the proceeds from every V-Day event nationwide. This year, as last, that campaign is Stop Raping our Greatest Resource: Power to Women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a new global campaign to call attention to the atrocities facing women and girls in Eastern DRC.

Intermission Impossible: I know that Eve Ensler has made several changes to the script over the years. Is there anything new this year?

P. Elizabeth Cawein:
Periodically Eve has made changes to the script that have then carried on in years following — for example, two monologues that were in the show when I first started performing it were "Smell," where women shared what they thought their vagina smelled like, and "I was 12, my mother slapped me," which was a group piece about first menstruation. Other small changes have been made along the way, but I think what you're probably referring to is the spotlight monologue. Each year, in conjunction with the spotlight campaign, there is a special monologue written to bring awareness to those issues. This year's spotlight follows the story of a young girl who was captured by a soldier and forced into sexual servitude — absolutely gut-wrenching. In addition the spotlight, each production of the show features an optional monologue. There are five or six directors have from which to choose. I opted to take the decision to my cast for a vote, because it was important to me from the get-go that this production belong to them as much as to me, and because I wanted our performance in every possible aspect to represent our community, to be about Memphis women. We have chosen to perform the piece "They Beat the Girl Out of My Boy," a group monologue about a transgendered couple. At the time that we were making the decision, the vandalism of the gay and lesbian community center had just taken place and we wanted to see a stronger representation of GLBT issues in our production.

Intermission Impossible: This show hasn't just been criticized by social conservatives. It's also been criticized by feminists and detractors who think it's anti-male because it focuses so heavily on violence almost to the point of negating the possibility of normal loving relationships. I'm not saying any of this is the case but I wonder how you respond to the criticism.

P. Elizabeth Cawein:
I can understand those criticisms, but I think that the two sides to this show — the lighter, funny monologues and the heavier, more somber pieces — don't have a whole lot to say about the average man. This is not a man-hating show. It's a violence-hating show, and a crime-hating show, and a show that hates rape and murder and sexual slavery. Those lighter monologues tend to be about the universals: the frustrations of the gyno, that big scary indelicate C word, hair, finding the elusive clitoris, thong underwear. (There's actually a monologue about a woman who discovers the beauty of her vagina because of a man who taught her to appreciate it.) Alternately, what you will find in the heavier pieces is a true world view. These monologues are not down on men. These monologues are shining light on horrific atrocities that are happening right beneath our noses across the world with nothing being done to stop them. They are about Bosnian women during the war in Yugoslavia or young girls in the DRC.

This show is absolutely for men and women — I think it's a common misconception that it's going to be some big hen party and that no boys are allowed. The fact is, there are parts of this show that are laugh-out-loud funny, no matter your gender or political affiliation or views on just about anything. And there are parts of it that I genuinely believe everyone needs to hear. Everyone needs to know how many women experience female genital mutilation each year. Everyone needs to know how many young girls are raped as a tactic of war. Everyone needs to know the mental and psychological effects of childhood sexual abuse. Everyone. And perhaps what is so powerful about this show, and why it remains so important and so relevant, is that it blends fantastic humor with those chilling facts, just enough to draw you in and make you laugh but leave you speechless, thoughtful, at the show's close.

When: Thurs.-Sat., Feb. 11-13, 7:30 p.m.
Price: $10 advance/$12 door
Cooper-Young Inside First Congregational Church, 1000 S. Cooper

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