Monologues with a message: Students raise money to end gender-based violence

Melissa Gonzalez

One very important body part was the focus of a fundraising effort for a local non-profit organization: the vagina.

Minnesota State University Moorhead’s Campus Feminist Organization (CFO) and Women’s Center co-sponsored the performance of “The Vagina Monologues” Tuesday night in Weld Hall.

“The Vagina Monologues,” written by playwright Eve Ensler, is based off interviews with women about their bodies, experiences and sexualities. The subjects of the monologues range from female ejaculation to transgender women’s struggles, sexual abuse and confronting rape culture.

The single performance raised over $400 through ticket sales and donations for CFO’s handmade buttons. The funds collected were donated to Fargo-Moorhead’s Rape and Abuse Crisis Center (RACC).

The RACC is a major shelter that works with victims of gender-based violence. Ten percent of the total money raised is required to go to Ensler’s V-DAY organization that also works to end violence against women. The remaining 90 percent was given to the RACC.

“(RACC) teaches about sexual violence prevention and bystander intervention training. We wanted to give back to them,” Women’s Center coordinator Dana Bisignani said.

Trina Szafranski, a cast member and MSUM freshman, already knew of the play and suggested it to the CFO last semester. She auditioned with and later performed the monologue “My Short Skirt,” which challenges victim blaming around women’s attire.

“I liked how impactful it sounded when I first read it. I was really excited to have kept the piece,” Szafranski said.

Bisignani and freshman Sylina Hertel, the stage manager for the production, worked together to organize auditions and casting.

“I didn’t know what it was,” Hertel said. “After reading it, I thought it was incredible, and I was excited for it. Now I’m on double duty.”

After auditions, Hertel and Bisignani spent time matching people with the monologues that would best suit them. The strength of the cast members’ voices, their ability to portray accents, and their personalities were all factors while casting.

Aside from being the stage manager, Hertel also performed “The Vagina Workshop,” a piece about a woman accepting her body as beautiful.

Freshman Ponny White learned about the play in December from CFO member and co-stage manager Nora Bartel. After mistakenly thinking the audition night was an open mic night for poetry, White was surprised to see a script handed to her instead.

She auditioned with “My Angry Vagina” but was given “Over It Redux,” the spotlight monologue, instead.

Ensler originally published “Over It Redux” in 2012, but she updated it last October to match the current climate surrounding sexual assault and abuse. The monologue is a confrontational address to end rape culture and the lack of accountability men face when in positions of power. In it, Ensler cites cases against President Donald Trump, Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, Roger Ailes and other alleged perpetrators. She also confronts “good men,” challenging their passivity and calling on them to aid women in stopping gender violence.

In total, 16 MSUM students came together to perform the same number of monologues. The audience’s reactions ranged from somber silence to throwing their heads back in laughter.

However, no one was laughing during White’s monologue. When it began, the stage was empty. Then, one by one, the cast members filed onto the stage, leaving a space in the middle for one last person. White then silently walked out to join them, pausing before she began.

Her voice quickly grew louder as she recited statistics of violence against women and bolder as she spoke of the men in power who commit these acts. Her voice eventually boomed as she called on other men to join women in ending violence.

Throughout White’s monologue, each cast member contributed another statistic to the growing pile. Their voices rang together as they all recited the words “I am over” in between White’s parts. After the cast concluded, there was a pause before applause broke out in applause and a standing ovation.

Although students may feel uncomfortable talking about their bodies and their sexual experiences, the play’s cast, director and playwright want to facilitate change by using art and performance to add to the conversation.

“‘The Vagina Monologues’ are talking about (our) problems as women and about our vaginas,” Hertel said. “These give a voice to things we feel we can’t talk about.”

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