During the bleakness of winter, males and females alike are invited to amass, examine, and celebrate a subject matter rarely discussed within Korea’s somewhat progressively obtuse social domain: vaginas.
“The Vagina Monologues,” written in the mid-’90s by American playwright and activist Eve Ensler, chronicles the tales of countless women – and their vaginas – as they try to negotiate issues of sexuality, self-esteem, violence and identity.
Now, through a series of discourses both heartbreaking and hilarious, 18 expatriate women, including me, are bringing Ensler’s work to Jeju for the very first time.
Like any good first-year Women’s Studies student, I heard Ensler’s touching stories in a campus auditorium and was immediately drawn to the unapologetic, uninhibited nature of the production. “The Vagina Monologues” became a sort of annual tradition for me, but I often felt like we were preaching to the converted. A roomful of freethinking university students wasn’t exactly the toughest critics to convince.
Thus, when I received word that an ESL teacher was trying to organize a performance here I jumped – no, hurtled myself – at the opportunity.
I was not altogether surprised that another foreigner was so like-minded. What I did find surprising, however, was the sheer variety in age and origins of the other expatriates who wanted to participate. The monologues that Ensler compiled from countless interviews spanned oceans, age-brackets and race; this would be the first time I would take part in a production that reflected that kind of diversity in its cast.
The preparation for this performance has been refreshingly grassroots. It’s been about creating community rather than meticulous stage directions. Above all, the main directive has been to give the words resilience and strength. Despite the often tragic circumstances of the women being interviewed, there should be no remorse, shame or regret in our interpretations. My monologue in particular, The Flood, where an elderly woman recalls a rather embarrassing first kiss experience that left her slightly too aroused, is ultimately about celebrating a woman’s spirit. It’s about the varying ways in which women come to develop a relationship with themselves and with time accept their shortcomings.
Through its countless performances and annual spotlight monologues (this year dealing with Haiti), “The Vagina Monologues” has become an integral component in Ensler’s ongoing fundraising campaign, V-DAY, which strives to eradicate violence towards women.
As I walk along sidewalks littered with snuff calling cards, I am reminded of why a need for this kind of artistic humanitarianism persists. I hope that our message can cross the boundary of the stage and pervade this community that so rarely experiences such revolutionary discourse. If anything, it has succeeded in reminding a group of foreigners that the power to affect change is boundless. There’s still room for vaginas – and a myriad of colourful synonyms – on this little island of ours.
“The Vagina Monologues” will be performed at 8 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 26 at the Haebyun Concert Hall in Jeju City. All proceeds will be donated to charity.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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