It's "vagina lady."
As author of The Vagina Monologues, Ensler interviewed more than 200 women about memories and experiences of sexuality. Her book has transformed into a play, performed by the likes of Jane Fonda, Calista Flockhart, Melissa Etheridge and hundreds of other women around the world.
She recalls her experiences at online: "As I traveled with the piece to city after city, country after country, hundreds of women waited after the show to talk to me about their lives. The play had somehow freed up their memories, pain and desire. ... Slowly, it dawned on me that nothing was more important than stopping violence toward women."
In 1997, she founded V-Day, a nonprofit grassroots movement dedicated to ending violence against women around the world. A performance of The Vagina Monologues is the centerpiece of the day, which occurs between Feb. 1 and March 8 in cities around the world.
V-Day Tucson takes place on Saturday, Feb. 4. The Vagina Monologues will be performed at 7 p.m. at the Fox Theatre, 17 W. Congress St. Doors open at 6 p.m. with a resource fair in the lobby. Local organizations that do work regarding violence and violence against women will provide information. Tickets for the play are $20, available at vdaytucson.org, the Fox Theatre box office, Ticketmaster and at the door. For more information, call 591-3176.
Stage manager Michael Mandel says proceeds go to prevention efforts at the Southern Arizona Center Against Sexual Assault, the Wingspan Anti-Violence Project and programs serving "comfort women, World War II women in Japan who were turned into sexual slaves to 'comfort' the soldiers."
Mandel quotes a sobering statistic of violence against women, based a 2002 national study: After age 18, one in six women are victims of attempted or completed sexual assault. "As a man, I think it's important for me to help end violence against women. (Working on The Vagina Monologues) is a big vocal way for me to do that."
V-Day Tucson will honor seven Vagina Warriors (a term coined by Ensler) during an award ceremony prior to the show. "We will recognize women in Tucson who have done extraordinary work on ending or preventing violence against women," says Mandel. "We feel it's important to recognize the work being done in our community."
Director Dana Cianciotto also feels strongly about the cause. "It's really trying to get across to women that if we don't stand up as one, the violence against us will not stop. This show takes an opportunity to relate women to one another, regardless of race, age and sexual orientation. It makes us realize that we all have this one thing in common--we are all still women. If we don't work together, rape as a tactic of war will continue. Genital mutilation is still going on. We can stop it. We have to make an effort."
Cianciotto says the play is performed by seven actresses and has about 18 pieces, including monologues and group scenes. They vary in length, ranging from 60 seconds to 15 minutes.
"The name is not misleading. All of the pieces are directly related to being a woman and having a vagina. ... Any woman in the world could be able to relate to the pieces. They are based on actual experiences. ... Women talk about the first time they got their period and coming to terms with their sexual identity and their bodies."
To raise awareness about violence about women, there are two pieces that "people in America may not be aware of that goes on. One is about women in Afghanistan under the Taliban. The other is about women in Bosnia who were raped as a tactic of war."
But even with such serious topics, Cianciotto says the play is "predominately very, very funny. The feel of the show is solidarity and absolute joy."
Her favorite piece is "The Woman Who Loved to Make Vaginas Happy." "It tells the story about a woman who used to be a lawyer and is currently a sex worker. She is talking about all the different ways she likes to make women happy. It's one of the funniest pieces at the end of the show."
With the word vagina used so freely, people are sometimes offended by the title itself. In 2002, Cianciotto was doing publicity for a show called Boobs, the Musical, and was passing out flyers in the middle of Times Square. Her friend was doing publicity for The Vagina Monologues and was passing out flyers also. Some people "were appalled that we were passing out this filth (as they called it). We said it was not a sex show and that people didn't dress up like vaginas. ... It was very strange. They must have been tourists."
But in the Old Pueblo, Cianciotto hasn't received any negative comments. During a rehearsal, a father of one of the actresses came up to her afterward and thanked her for a very interesting evening. "He was in his mid- to late-50s and was laughing the whole time," she recalls. So maybe in the end, V also stands for victory.