MJ Mason: Reclaiming "Vagina"

Every February, fem-identifying individuals from all over the world come together within their communities to present and perform Eve Ensler’s play, The Vagina Monologues. This movement, also known as the V-Day movement, is both a celebration of femininity and a form of activism hoping to raise awareness of violence towards women in hopes of someday ending it.

Ever since the V-Day movement began, a performance of The Vagina Monologues has been performed every year at Augustana College thanks to the members of Alpha Psi Omega, which is our national theater honor society. Last week, I had the pleasure of sitting down with my very good friend MJ Mason, who is both the president of Alpha Psi and the head Vagina Warrior for this year’s production of The Vagina Monologues, in order to pick her brain about the event and what the V-Day movement means to her.

So, how excited are you for The Vagina Monologues?

I am extremely excited. It’s something that I had no idea existed coming into college, and since learning about it, it’s completely changed my perception of both theater and what it means to be a woman, as well as what kind of woman I want to be. And I’m really excited to put my own spin on this show and implement some ideas to make it new, engaging, and reach different audiences around the Quad Cities.

This year, you’ve recruited a cast of over fifty women to perform. What gave you the idea to have such a big cast?

Really, it goes back to the core message of the day and the vagina monologues: that local women know how to best reach out to their own community. We were doing a great job of reaching out to the theater community, but part of the message I wanted to help spread to women everywhere, especially with what’s been going on recently, is that we are not segregated by what we do, but who we are is what binds us together. So I wanted to reach out to groups on campus who may not have felt inclined to audition and invite them personally to be a part of this movement and have their voice be heard. At the end of the day, it’s really about making people comfortable and aware of the opportunity, and making them feel welcome to be a part of the process.

What are some new ideas and directing decisions you are implementing this year to make the performance even better?

First of all, this is the first year we’ve invited faculty to join the cast. We’re also changing locations from Wallenberg to Brunner. We’re implementing an invitation system to communities in the Quad Cities and the individuals on campus, and we’re also implementing a raffle for this year. I’ve been in contact with many Augie fem-identifying alums and students, and I’ve been asking that anyone who has artistic inclinations if they’d be willing to create and donate pieces of art inspired by the show to be raffled off as a fundraising technique. It’s local art by women, for women, and the money goes to support women! And the raffle allows women who may not feel comfortable performing or may not have the time to usher the show to still support the cause and the women within the Quad Cities and our own campus community.

There’s a particular aspect of The Vagina Monologues called the spotlight piece. Can you explain what it is and, specifically, a bit about this year’s selected piece?

The idea of the spotlight piece is that it is a new vagina monologue written every year by the Vagina Monologues Organization. It’s released in January in order to be performed in all of the February shows. This year, however, the organization decided to handle it a little bit differently. This year, the overall theme the organization is supporting is the idea of resisting and uniting as women and fem-identifying individuals. So, they decided to not include a spotlight piece in case performances wanted to invite local community members or students to speak at the end of their show. However, they did create a new piece of writing to perform in case a performance decided not to include speakers. The original playwright, Eve Ensler, wrote a piece called “Over It” that has been updated over time and, now, officially submitted for performance this year. And “Over It” is a brutally honest confession of what women go through, from statistics to cultural references to everyday situations. It’s this agonizingly long list that is so difficult to sit and listen to because you realize that this is what women go through every day. And the ending is a call to action, not for the women standing on stage and raising their voices, but for the people in the audience who are so comfortable being passive about the situation. These are the people who say the right things and do the right things, but aren’t actively fighting back. It’s a call to action for the bystanders in the audience, a piece that says “you just sat through this agonizingly long list of what we go through. How dare you sit there and be okay with this issue that we’re not causing, but is happening to us." It’s a really beautiful piece, and the way I’m conducting the piece is that each of the thirty-three Vagina Warriors in the show gets to say one of the thirty-three facts that constitute the majority of the monologue.

So, to those men and women who may not have heard of The Vagina Monologues, what would be your open invitation to them?

I’ve been going around to various different groups across campus and inviting them to come and support the production as audience members. And I always acknowledge at the beginning that, yes, it does sound like a scary show. It has the word “vagina” in it, and that’s not a comfortable thing to say more often than not for people. So I always start off and reassure them that it’s not as scary as they think. Then I go on to explain that this is not a toxic environment where you’re going to go in and we’re going to scream at you and shove our beliefs down your throat so you walk out feeling violated or betrayed or uncomfortable. Instead, the idea of the show is to share stories and have an optimistic and intentional call to action about issues in our local community, our national community, our international community that women and fem-identifying individuals face day-by-day, hour-by-hour, second-by-second. The show itself is a compilation of monologues inspired by real-life interviews, and the topics in the show range from sexual assault to abuse to what it means to be a transgender woman to what it means to be a six year-old girl learning what your vagina is for the first time to what it means to be an eighty year-old woman talking about her vagina for the first time. It is not meant to make people uncomfortable, but rather to normalize the conversation and establish a space and community where these issues that need to be talked about and need to be fought can be discussed. I was one of those people really uneasy walking in my freshman year to perform it, and now, I can say nothing but positive things about what it’s brought me in my life. And I hope that both male, female, & non-binary individuals can appreciate the same things that I was able to get from this show.

And my last question for you is, aside from the Spotlight Piece, what is your favorite monologue from The Vagina Monologues and why?

The monologue that is closest to me at the moment is the one that I most recently performed, which was “The Woman Who Liked To Make Vaginas Happy”. It’s a monologue about a woman who is very controlled and rigid who felt something inside herself that she couldn’t quite explain, and she realized what she needed to find from herself was her moan. And the monologue goes on to explain how she discovered her desire to be a dominatrix, how she enjoys pleasuring women over men, and the struggle with coming to terms with that aspect of herself, and the beauty of helping somebody feel as good as moaning makes you feel. It’s one of the funnier pieces, but for me, it’s beautiful because I feel like that piece is very symbolic for the show in the sense that this woman comes to terms with and fights the idea that you need to be quiet about things that are uncomfortable, that you need to suppress your moan. And I think that speaks for the show itself, because we are standing up there, we are making statements, we are ruffling feathers, and I think it’s a perfect symbol for what The Vagina Monologues stands for in general.

The Vagina Monologues will be performed February 8th though February 10th at 7:30 pm in the Brunner Theater Center. Tickets are $6 for the general public, and $3 for students.