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Feb. 10, 2005
Behind the Stage Door


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"WE LIVE IN A PENIS WORLD. EVERYTHING ABOUT THIS world is phallic," said playwright Eve Ensler, who wrote and performed the 1997 Obie Award-winning play The Vagina Monologues, as quoted on the Random House Web site. Initially she performed all the monologues. She was later joined by celebrities, and the play's world tour led to the V-day movement to stop violence against women and children.

The monologues explore different aspects of the vagina, its secrets and secretions; they touch on power, sex and procreation. They are deeply affecting at many levels, alternately touching, scary, disturbing, humorous and incredibly sexy.

Playwright Ensler grew up in what she describes as a brutal environment and was not in touch with her own sexuality when she began interviewing more than 200 women about their personal experiences. Some told happy stories about learning to love their bodies and themselves. Others told horror stories of the rape camps in Bosnia or of a child's willing acceptance of seduction by an older woman. Ensler has responded to criticism of the subjects explored by her narrators, acknowledging the piece is not politically correct. She told, "I interviewed women, and I told their stories. I didn't make them up. People are going to have problems with people's stories."

For the fourth year in a row, this provocative and visceral play will be presented at Humboldt State. Director Britta Gudmunson assembled 25 new cast members for three performances sponsored by the HSU Women's Center and benefiting local groups working to end violence against women and children.

Local entrepreneur Eva Lyons said, "I play a woman who loves to make vaginas happy. Performing this is really empowering. It's great to meet so many beautiful vaginas involved in a sex positive awareness-raising performance that I'm not producing or directing, like at Club Risque."

V-day is not just about women. Men are involved and have been for many years. One of Humboldt's best known artists, Richard Duning, famous for using yoni images and fetishes in his paintings, said he was incredibly flattered to be asked to participate in V-day for two years in a row and added, "The women's movement is a role model for what men need to do; we need to learn [about] ourselves."

Local V-Day coordinator Shannon Ryan said that even in a liberal town like Arcata, there are many people uncomfortable with the word vagina, which incidentally was first used in the late 15th century and comes from a Latin word meaning a sheath for a sword. Curiously, it may have been an attempt at Renaissance political correctness; sheath is also the meaning of the word cunnus, which survives in the German-derived cunt.

Ryan said organizers had trouble getting some Arcata Plaza businesses to even hang posters, adding that certain business owners, "definitely men, told us Vagina wasn't appropriate in a business, but there are several Vagina-friendly businesses out there that support us," including the Works and the Metro, which with the HSU Bookstore are selling $15 student and $20 general admission tickets to the three performances scheduled for Friday and Saturday, Feb. 11 and 12 and Valentine's Day, Monday, Feb. 14, at 8 p.m. at HSU's Van Duzer Theatre.

The shows routinely sell out; thousands of women across the country have performed, hundreds of thousands of men and women have watched, cried, laughed and applauded. Tickets support the North Coast Rape Crisis Center; Humboldt Domestic Violence Services; the Emma Center, which will open in March; and the HSU Women's Center.


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