If the name “Vagina Warriors” does not catch your attention, their performance certainly will.
Their first public appearance—a flash mob at the Raritan Valley Community College Cafeteria on the afternoon of Thursday, March 26—caused the crowd to whistle, howl and ask who these women are.
About 20 actors—half students at RVCC and half members of the Meta Theatre Company (MTC)—comprise the Vagina Warriors: performers of the Vagina Monologues April 8 and 9 at RVCC’s Welpe Theatre.
The Vagina Monologues concern the feminine experience. A recurring theme is the vagina as a tool of female empowerment and the embodiment of individuality. Actors will read monologues off of pink cards to show this is not their story; they are stepping in the place of another woman.
MTC regularly addresses similar issues in their shows. “We are a social justice theatre company that believes you can use theater as a way to change communities for the better and find long-term solutions to problems,” said Caroline Hann, co-founder of MTC.
Hann is a former professional actor turned social worker. She melds both pieces of her life into MTC and has performed a few shows at RVCC, all with positive reception. But in the community reactions are mixed.
“We’ve had audiences, especially with the white privilege piece, take a step back because I don’t think it’s talked about a lot in the community,” Hann said. “We’re not there to confront anybody. We’re there to open up conversations.”
Barbara Cannel, another co-founder of MTC and a RVCC alumni, says the Vagina Monologues are meant to educate people on how beautiful vaginas are. “What does the vagina stand for? It’s about life, giving life. It’s not to be abused. It’s not to be taken for granted.”
Part of that education is dispelling the taboo of the word vagina. To combat this, the Vagina Monologues will begin by asking the audience to say vagina out loud.
“Why is saying vagina so wrong,” said Bryna Parker, a student at RVCC. “Last time I checked the word doesn’t mean porn, but that’s what it’s associated with.”
“They’re our soul. It’s what we lead with, just like men with their penis,” said Fola Walker, a student at RVCC. “It’s not something that’s just there. It’s our voice.”
Cannel urges men to come to the show so they can educate other men on the issue. “The more you know about what is happening in the real world, the more you are going to start changing your thinking and help other men understand we need to support women and love them.”
The Vagina Warriors said women also need to be educated to realize that abuse is not their fault. Comments such as “she was drunk, he was drunk, she was dressing provocatively or they used to date,” are not excuses; nothing justifies sexual violence.
The Vagina Warriors will perform their original piece “Dear New Jersey” to show that sexual violence takes place where we live. This is written in collaboration with inmates at Edna Mahan Women’s Correctional Facility.
MTC performed "Any One of Us" in April 2014 at the prison. The response was so enthusiastic that the women wanted to write pieces of their own. Proceeds of the monologue will go to MTC's The Edna Mahan Women's Correctional Facility Theatre Program.
“Hello My Name Is” is another collaboration with the prison that will be performed on April 9, from noon to 3 p.m. in the Welpe Theatre at Denim Day, an annual day designed to raise awareness and educate the community about sexual violence prevention.
The piece concerns a 13-year-old girl who gets entwined with her 17-year-old boyfriend’s drug deals. “She says ‘I love you, I’ll take the fall;’ not realizing she’ll be in jail for a long time and the guy only gets probation,” Cannel said.
This story is similar to the fate of one inmate at Edna Mahan. She was sentenced on a robbery for 30 years. The man who was also involved did not go to jail.
“The sentencing laws aren’t fair,” said Canell. “There are women serving 30 years for killing their beater, and nothing was taken into consideration how she was battered so brutally she had to retaliate to get out of it. There is no rehabilitation.”
“Yeah, we look soft and we’re beautiful little creatures, but we’re not messing around,” said Megan Higgins, a student at RVCC. “It’s been a very emotional experience for everyone. I’m not embarrassed about talking about my vagina. These are my needs as a human.”
Higgins said the inmates are in awe that their work will be heard. “They are some of the most intellectual people we’ve ever seen. We have learned so much from each other.”
The Vagina Monologues are presented this year as part of V-Day’s campaign “ONE BILLION RISING: REVOLUTION,” a global initiative that began two years ago as a call for women survivors of violence to rise and demand an end to violence.
The set for the Vagina Monologues will contain women’s health products and jeans with messages on them. Ushers will walk the audience onto the set before the show starts. Their will be a post-show discussion.
The show costs $10 for the general public and is free with a RVCC ID. It will start at 7 p.m. and run about one and a half hours.
The Meta Theatre Company was co-founded by Caroline Hann, Barbara Cannell and Cyndie Wiggins in August 2012.
Featured image caption:
From left to right: (laying down) Mary Margaret Munich
First row across couch: Cyndie Wiggins, Bryna Parker, Ri Langston, Megan Higgins, Kristine Klimchock
Back row: Bernadette Contreras Noll, Denise Gliozzi, Morgan Tarrant, Samantha Rodden, Fola Walker, Samantha Mishinski, Carly J. Bauer, Caroline Hann, Anne Schmalzigan, and Carolyn Gorman
Not pictured: Gina Sampaio, Janice Kovach, Gina Bentivegna, Gesinia Marcano, and Alexis Nerger