Two Carleton University students are doing their best to bring the theme of women and their experiences to life with an annual production of The Vagina Monologues. Tara Sprickerhoff and Miriam Illman-White are co-presidents of Carleton’s group, Vaginas Against Violence or VAV. The VAV is an organization specific to Carleton that has existed for around seven or eight years. Sprickerhoff, a third-year journalism major with a minor in political science auditioned for The Monologues during her freshman year and was cast in the production. The rest has been a natural progression for her and Illman-White, a third-year english major concentrating in drama with a minor in Canadian studies, who is co-directing the production this year.
The Vagina Monologues are the main project for the VAV and those who audition for parts in the performance can become members by default, just like Sprickerhoff. She read The Monologues when she was younger but it was only when she re-read the script in preparation for her part that she came to the realization that, “…many of my ideas about sexuality stemmed from the play.” She also enjoys being able to bring about awareness for women’s issues, a cause that is close to her heart, in the context of a dramatic reading because drama is one of her self-confessed, “…favourite mediums.”
When asked if they could tell each student one thing about The Vagina Monologues, Illman-White answered, “We believe in equality and creating safe spaces. We believe people are beautiful and encourage everyone to look for their own beauty.” Although the co-presidents and the VAV at large may be looking for peoples’ inner beauty some are less than supportive of their efforts. Sprickerhoff reported that she often finds herself, “…defending feminism and my beliefs that there is still work to be done in the feminist movement today.”
Nevertheless, the VAV keep a positive outlook.
"The Vagina Monologues is an incredible space for women to come together and share ideas and beliefs and stories. The solidarity and community that is created is incredible, especially in the week before the play and over the weekend of the performances. It’s awe-inspiring to see…many of us don’t have other places like that in our lives,” said Sprickerhoff.
When noted by the VAV that The Monologues leave something to be desired, they set out to tweak the show in order to incorporate a diverse selection of female experiences. An example given by Sprickerhoff was, “…the majority of monologues surrounding women from minority groups tend to focus on the negative aspects of that experience, rather than some of the more positive aspects. We’ve also tried to introduce check-ins and intentional supports within the community.”
What first time attendees to the Carleton Edition of The Vagina Monologues should know according to Sprickerhoff is, “The purpose of the play is to bring awareness to different aspects of the female experience - everything from orgasms to birth to the more difficult aspects such as domestic violence and rape. It also serves to de-stigmatize the word 'vagina'. Eve Ensler, the author, thought that women didn't talk about their vaginas enough and so went around asking women about their vaginas. It became The Vagina Monologues…the goal of the play…is to end violence against women.”
Carleton puts a unique twist on the original script by being a place of inclusivity emphasized Sprickerhoff, “We try to be as inclusive a space as possible. While Eve stipulates that only people who identify as female can perform in the production itself, everyone who auditions gets a role and we try to include as many different experiences as possible in the play itself.”
One should come equipped with a few tissues and a relaxed attitude, advises Sprickerhoff, “Come with an open mind and be prepared to laugh, cry and enjoy the performance. To guys, I ask only that they not take it as an insult against the male species but rather a celebration of the female body and a tool to bring awareness to the injustices against those who identify as female."