It’s vagina season.
You heard right. Thursday isn’t just Valentine’s Day, but V-Day — a day dedicated to raising awareness and ending violence against women and girls. The “V,” according to the website, stands for “Victory, valentine, and vagina,” and the most popular and well-loved celebration of the day is the Vagina Monologues.
“People hear the word ‘vagina’ and they react like they’re in seventh grade sex ed,” English senior Katherine Beglin said. “They don’t realize how important and influential this program is.”
The Vagina Monologues, an episodic play written by Eve Ensler in 1996, has established itself as a cultural movement. In 1998, Ensler realized how impactful the stories were, and from there, V-Day was born. On V-Day, women can come together, share stories and work to end the violence that exists throughout communities all over the world.
This year is the 15th anniversary of V-Day, and the 10th anniversary of Cal Poly’s rendition of the Vagina Monologues. Since it’s such a big year for the movement, Beglin and her 22 fellow cast members are pulling out all the stops.
“Even if you’ve seen the Vagina Monologues before, this is nothing like it,” Beglin said.
This year’s production is directed by psychology senior Caitlin Fuller, who students may know from KCPR’s late-night sex-talk program, “Getting it In.” Her involvement with the Vagina Monologues dates back to her freshman year, when she fell in love with the message and community surrounding the production.
While Fuller will stay true to playwright Ensler’s vision, this year’s production will be “turned on its head,” Beglin said.
At rehearsal on Feb. 2, Fuller said with a smile, “I’m kinda stressed.” She laughed, turned on the music and watched as her cast started dancing. “But this is the right kind of stress.”
In addition to the monologues, the production will feature multimedia aspects, dance and each actor will present her artistic interpretation of the vagina.
“Caitlin pushed us all out of our comfort zones,” Beglin said. “Instead of focusing on just what’s written in the script, she’s called on all of us to look at women from all walks of life and their experiences with the issues we’re talking about. We’re globalizing the issues this year.”
Fuller’s global perspective makes perfect sense this year, since V-Day’s highlighted movement is One Billion Rising. According to the movement’s website, one in three women is affected by sexual violence worldwide. “One billion violated women is an atrocity,” the site states. So Ensler invites everyone to “WALK OUT, DANCE, RISE UP and DEMAND an end to sexual violence.”
The performance hits home for many women, and many cast members will draw on real personal experiences to bring their monologues to life.
“I had an HIV scare last year,” cast member Emma Woodard said. “And I thought this year I needed — and my vagina needed — a voice. The Vagina Monologues is that voice.”
And undoubtedly, these women’s voices will be heard. At rehearsal, energy was high. Laughter and cries of “I AM WOMAN!” bounced off the walls of room 204 in the University Union.
Biological sciences junior Morgan Aspelund said she walks out of every rehearsal feeling empowered.
“I just love that I’m doing something. I’m speaking out about this violence,” she said. “I’m embracing my inner activist.”
And that’s what the production hopes to achieve.
“We’re going to make women feel whole,” Beglin said.
Sexual expression is part of being human, she said, and unfortunately so is the violence that comes with it. By empowering women to speak up, fight back and rise together, the whole cast hopes to get conversations started and catalyze more activism around the world.
The process of preparing for the performance has been a trying one, and a learning experience for everyone involved.
English and theatre arts senior Yanelly De La Rosa said her role in the production has been a huge opportunity for growth.
“This is all part of rediscovering myself,” she said.
At the end of rehearsal, the music stopped, the women applauded each other and smiled.
“How do you feel?” Fuller asked her cast.
“Empowered,” they replied.
They stressed the community they have created around the production. Together over the past few months they’ve shared their Saturday mornings, their stories, their highs and lows, and it will all come together next weekend. Sunday was the first time the cast performed its monologues together.
“We’ll have a tech rehearsal, and then the next day is our first performance,” Fuller said to the cast.
The room fell quiet. One woman said, “holy shit.”
It’s happening, Fuller said. And they’re ready.
The Vagina Monologues will be presented in Alex and Faye Spanos Theatre on Feb. 15 and 16 at 8 p.m., and Feb. 17 at 3 p.m. Tickets are $15 for students, $18 for community members and can be purchased on the Christopher Cohan Performing Arts Center’s website. All proceeds benefit Safer, the Sexual Assault Recovery & Prevention (SARP) Center, the Women’s Shelter Program of San Luis Obispo, the North County Women’s Shelter and the V-Day movement.
“Everyone has a woman in their life,” De La Rosa said. “Come out and celebrate her.”