UnCommonwealth: EKU’s production of ‘Vagina Monologues’ in its 13th year

The cast of EKU’s 2015 production of “The Vagina Monologues.” EKU has a 13-year tradition of presenting the feminist play.
The cast of EKU’s 2015 production of “The Vagina Monologues.” EKU has a 13-year tradition of presenting the feminist play. Photo provided

Lauren Stapleton didn’t just act in Eastern Kentucky University’s The Vagina Monologues; she has become a four-year fixture in its 13-year production.

Stapleton acted in the show twice, then she was an assistant director, and this year she’s the director.

To say that Eve Ensler’s feminist play has had an impact on her life is perhaps understating things: Stapleton pulls out a cellphone photo taken at her recent wedding reception. Surrounding the bride are 25 people she met through The Vagina Monologues.

The annual presentation of The Vagina Monologues is the signature event of EKU’s Women and Gender Studies Department, said its director, Lisa Day. “I consider it the highlight of the year. … I stand in the audience with the biggest geeky smile I can,” she said.

When The Vagina Monologues debuted in 1996 in New York, its frank language was unprecedented. Even now, it might take even a liberal ear a bit of adjustment time to get fully comfortable, and that’s part of the play’s point: The language we use becomes imbued with as much power as we allow it, for better or worse.

Consider this excerpt: “We were worried what we think about vaginas, and even more worried that we don’t think about them. There’s so much darkness and secrecy surrounding them — like the Bermuda triangle. Nobody ever reports back from there.”

But over the course of the play, and certainly over the course of EKU’s presentation of the play, the language becomes familiar through constant use, and cast members become simply “the vaginas” to each other.

“You start to say, ‘I have lunch with ‘the vaginas’ tomorrow,’” Stapleton said.

After participants are cast, they attend a retreat in Berea to get to know one another.

“You’re not auditioning for a play,” Stapleton said. “You’re auditioning for six months of hanging out with other women and then you put on a play. The activism is how people see us.”

Vagina Monologues alumna, Kara Lairson, is helping to stage the play in Daegu, South Korea, where she is now living.

At the EKU performance, T-shirts, buttons and vagina-shaped chocolate pops are sold, with proceeds going to the Bluegrass Rape Crisis Center, Hope’s Wings domestic violence center in Richmond and the V-Day global movement to end violence against women and girls.

Through V-Day campaigns, funds from annual benefit performances of The Vagina Monologues and other productions go to raise awareness and money for groups fighting violence against women and girls.

The play includes a varying number of monologues performed by a varying number of women. For the 2016 performances, EKU’s production will use more of the group pieces as opposed to individual monologues, Stapleton said. Women in the EKU performances traditionally sit on the stage in a semicircle and react as other parts of the performance are acted out.

Not all of the EKU participants are students: Stapleton is a recent EKU graduate, and in 2015, one of the participants was a Lexington nurse. EKU professors also have been among the participants, Stapleton said.

People tell her that Vagina Monologues was life-changing for them because of the “messages that are in the play about women’s empowerment, girls’ empowerment … and the overall celebration of being a woman. People identify with it,” Day said.

The young woman cast this year to deliver the “Angry Vagina” monologue was not sure she fit her part.

Stapleton responded to her thus: “I have heard you go on a rant about feminism that would bring flames to people’s eyes.” Stapleton is sure the young actress will do fine — as will the rest of the cast.

“I visualize them as a blossoming flower,” Day said. “It’s an amazing transformation on a yearly basis.”

Day said EKU’s women and gender studies program is thriving. Each semester, two or 13 sections of the introductory class are taught, with 30 students in each section. The department has 52 students who are minoring in women and gender studies minors. That number is up from 26 five years ago.

Cheryl Truman: 859-231-3202, @CherylTruman

If you go

‘The Vagina Monologues’

Where: O’Donnell Auditorium, Whitlock Building, 120 Park Drive, Eastern Kentucky University

When: 7 p.m. March 30-31, April 1

Cost: $10 public, $5 students. Cash and checks accepted at the door. Tickets go on sale at 6 p.m. the day of the show.

For more information: Visit the EKU Women and Gender Studies Presents: The Vagina Monologues Facebook page