‘The Vagina Monologues’ was empowering.
The team at MATES Theatre Genesis have jumped on board the annual global celebration of ‘V-Day’ to host three staged readings of the ‘The Vagina Monologues’, over Valentine’s weekend. Held at the Birkdale School of Arts Hall, proceeds from the performances were donated to Redlands Centre for Women Inc.
‘The Vagina Monologues’ was released in 1996, by American playwright, performer, feminist and activist, Eve Ensler. In more modern times, it’s almost become a tradition that theatre and community groups across the globe celebrate ‘V-Day’, a global activist event birthed by the impact of Ensler’s play. As a result, V-Day activists produce art for social change and stage productions of ‘The Vagina Monologues’, or a similar piece titled ‘A Memory, A Monologue, A Rant and A Prayer: Writings to end violence against women and girls’, to spread awareness. New in 2020 is also the initiative ‘Raise The Vibrations’, which invites artists and collaborators to create performance pieces regarding this vital theme as well.
Upon arrival at the MATES Theatre Genesis’ event, a trio of musicians presented a variety of pop songs by women, which set the scene nicely. While the hall featured a raised proscenium stage, the production was presented almost in the round, with seating arranged in a semi-circle configuration.with seating even placed on the stage.
The final number from the trio of singers was ‘I Am Woman’, which led to the opening monologue delivered by Caroline Kennison, who acted as the narrator for the evening. A collection of women then spread throughout the hall and became involved in the storytelling with short comments and phrases, which created a promenade-style theatrical effect. This conversational style made the text feel less confronting, especially with over a dozen women rattling off various ‘nicknames’ of the female genitalia.
For audiences, there was no warm-up to the topic of this script – it got right down to the taboo subjects from the outset, using humour to relax the audience before taking them on an emotional journey through the eyes of hundreds of different women.
In ‘The Vagina Monologues’ creation, author Ensler had conducted over 200 interviews with women of all ages and races. From these interviews came stories, narratives and tales that were adapted into theatrical monologues; sewn together through the narrator who delivered Ensler’s own words about her journey meeting these women. In this production, there were a number of special guests featured throughout the presentation, including Sally McKenzie, Rebecca Riggs, Elise Greig and Lucinda Shaw. All of these women, including Kennison, are outstanding professional actors in Brisbane and abroad, and it was a wonderful experience to see them give of their time and talents and work alongside other members of the community theatre sector.
The production was a passion project for director Elizabeth Ross, who had waited a number of years to be able to stage it as a part of the V-Day project. Essentially a staged reading of the play, with numerous actors and special guests, performers presented their parts with scripts in hand. A few of the women who performed across all three performances were off-book and were able to make a greater connection with the audience, but as a whole, all performers delivered their roles passionately and engagingly.
A few times, during the course of the show, the soft voice or lower volume of readers meant lines were lost, especially when competing with the traffic noise outside the open windows. There was enough staging for the presentation to maintain movement and momentum without distracting from the text, which was the main focus. The performers wore their own outfits, adding to the comfortable atmosphere, and were adequately lit with a variety of theatre lamps on trees around the auditorium.
The script clearly has options to add more contemporary and local references, and these were well inserted – just enough to make audiences think this was written today and not over 20 years ago. However, hearing the multitude of stories that were easily relatable, still had an enormous impact on the adoring crowd. While the large majority of the audience was female, it was encouraging to see men in the audience, just as engaged as the women. The production managed to balance a rehearsed, polished presentation with a casual and real staged reading event intended, effectively organised by the theatre.
MATES Theatre Genesis has taken a commendable step to stage this production for charity and raising awareness and are to be commended for their treatment of this powerful and necessary work.
MATES have a variety of other productions throughout 2020. For details regarding their season and to book tickets, visit their website.