Pellissippi State Community College is using art to bring awareness of violence against women with two theatre performances that benefit the Sexual Assault Center of East Tennessee.
Women faculty and students will perform a staged reading of Eve Ensler’s play, “The Vagina Monologues,” at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 19, in the Clayton Performing Arts Center on the college’s Hardin Valley Campus, 10915 Hardin Valley Road, and at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 20, in the West Chevrolet Auditorium on the college’s Blount County Campus, 2731 W. Lamar Alexander Parkway, Friendsville.
A $10 donation is suggested at the door, as the performances are part of V-Day, a global activist moment to end violence against all women and girls. However, Associate Professor Grechen Wingerter said Pellissippi State will turn no one away because the messages in the play are powerful.
“Women in all walks of life have been affected by violence,” said Wingerter, who is directing both performances at Pellissippi State. “If we haven’t experienced violence personally, we know someone who has.”
“The Vagina Monologues,” which debuted in 1996, broke new ground. Based on dozens of interviews Ensler conducted with women, the play addresses women’s sexuality and the social stigma surrounding rape and abuse. After every performance, Ensler found women waiting to share their own stories of survival, leading Ensler and a group of women to establish in 1998 the nonprofit V-Day, which stages benefit performances of “The Vagina Monologues” and “A Memory, a Monologue, a Rant and a Prayer: Writings to Stop Violence Against Women and Girls,” also by Ensler, every February.
To date, the V-Day movement has raised more than $100 million and funded more than 13,000 community-based anti-violence programs and safe houses in Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Indian Country and Iraq, according to the V-Day website.
“All our readers are women or identify as women because these are all real stories from real women,” Wingerter noted. “These are stories of women who have not had power. In some situations, women are considered second-class citizens. Race, gender, sexuality, religion – all of that plays a part. And we will keep telling these stories until the violence stops.”
Wingerter warns that “The Vagina Monologues” is an adult-oriented show that tries to break the taboo of talking about women’s bodies. Parental discretion is advised.
“Some of these stories have tough language, and some have tough subject matter,” she said. “We say the word ‘vagina’ a lot, as well as its many euphemisms. You may be uncomfortable. Our readers may be uncomfortable. But we have to learn not to be afraid to say the word ‘vagina.’”
While the issues are serious, some stories have taken a comedic or light-hearted approach, leading to moments of laughter that allows audiences to let some of that tension go, Wingerter added.
“I hope both our students who are participating and those who come to see the play will take away that their voices matter, that their experiences matter,” she said. “Let’s look at how often those in the minority are told that their voices are not important. ‘The Vagina Monologues’ empowers women to speak out, that there are people who will listen.”
A talk-back session will be held after each performance, allowing those in the audience and the readers to discuss what they’ve seen and heard, as well as their own experiences.