IT'S SATURDAY NIGHT AT Antigone Books and the subject is vaginas.
"My vagina's angry," says performer Martie van der Voort, a smile playing across her lips. "It is. It's pissed off. My vagina's furious and it needs to talk."
What her vagina wants to say is that it doesn't like dry tampons, or perfumey products designed to mask its natural smell. And it can't stand those ob-gyn exams that have hard, cold metal speculi invading its soft warm space. The women in the Antigone audience laugh out loud when they hear these common-knowledge woman things that usually go unspoken in public.
Van der Voort's words, by turns stinging and hilarious, were a preview for The Vagina Monologues, the Obie-award-winning play by Eve Ensler that will get its first Tucson outing this Saturday night at the Rialto Theatre. Christina Walker directs a cast of 12 local women, who've gleaned their years of stage experience in theater groups from Bloodhut to Borderlands. But the play, scheduled for 8 p.m., is just the culmination of V-Day, a day-long series of downtown events designed not only to celebrate female sexuality but to raise awareness of endemic violence against women. Movies, testimonials, a bell-ringing ceremony, workshops and a performance by Tucson's Radical Cheerleaders highlight the day.
"V-Day will be held in 69 cities in 32 countries on the same day," says local organizer Erin Whitfield. The New York City event will feature a production of The Vagina Monologues at Madison Square Garden starring luminaries as exalted as Jane Fonda, Glenn Close and Lily Tomlin, but there will also be less glittering versions in Bangladesh, in Buffalo, in Tel Aviv.
"V-Day is a worldwide grassroots movement that holds at its heart a world without violence against women and girls," says Whitfield, a Tucson paralegal who was moved to put the local celebration together after reading the play.
Ensler herself started V-Day, which stands for vagina, violence, victory and Valentine all rolled into one, four years ago. She had originally interviewed some 200 women and used their personal histories as the fodder for her play's text. A number of the tales are wrenching accounts of sexual abuse and violence, including the story of a 10-year-old raped by her father's friend, and a Bosnian teen raped as an act of war. When Ensler performed the play herself in venues around the U.S. and Europe, she was deluged by women who wanted to share their stories of sexual violence.
"Slowly, it dawned on me that nothing was more important than stopping violence against women," Ensler writes in a new edition of The Vagina Monologues. Out of that consciousness, V-Day was born in 1998. All of the V-Day productions raise money for local programs that combat rape and abuse. The Tucson version will benefit the Southern Arizona Center Against Sexual Assault (SACASA) and the Wingspan Domestic Violence Project. (See accompanying story about the work of these two groups.)
Montserrat Caballero, who works as a rape crisis interventionist for SACASA, said she joined the organizers of V-Day because "it sheds light on issues of violence against women and girls and reaches a large audience. It celebrates the courage of survivors. It says this is not going to be tolerated."
Kathy Budway, a singer/songwriter who performs with the duo Kathy and Shanti, caught the preview at Antigone's. She says she's delighted to see the arts used as a vehicle to promote the message.
"It's great any time people talk about the violence against women. Art is effective; it's a great way to reach people."
Here's a rundown of the Tucson V-Day events on Saturday, February 10.
1:30 p.m. Doors open at the Screening Room, 127 E. Congress St.
2 to 3:15 p.m. Taking Back Your Power, a workshop conducted by CoreStar, at the Screening Room. Activities will include interactive play, journal writing and discussion. Ticket required; seating limited.
3:30 to 4:45 p.m. Film series at the Screening Room. Three independent shorts to be shown include The Day You Love Me by Florence Jaugey, about domestic violence in Nicaragua; Seven Lucky Charms by Lisa Mann, on wife battering and retaliation; and Two or Three Things but Nothing for Sure by Tina DiFeliciantonio and Jane C. Wagner, a portrait of writer Dorothy Allison, whose abuse as a child inspired her novel Bastard Out of Carolina. Ticket required; seating limited.
5 to 6 p.m. Street ceremony on Congress. Women will hold banners proclaiming Congress Street a violence-free zone. A bell will toll every two minutes to mark the fact that somewhere in America a woman is being raped at that moment. Free and open to the public.
6 p.m. Doors open at Rialto Theatre, 138 E. Congress St.
6:30 to 7:45 p.m. Pre-show V-Day Celebration at the Rialto. The lineup includes live music by Mardi Garcia of the band Pure; poetry by Kym Cutter; performance poetry by Erin Whitfield and dance by Orts apprentice Erin Evangelist; a speech by Denise Wolfe of Talking Circles, a Native American violence prevention program; fire theater and music by Flam Chen and Mole Hill; survivor testimonies; and feminist comedy by the Radical Cheerleaders. Cheerleader Veronica Del Real promises a rendition of the group's new menstruation chant.
8 p.m. The Vagina Monologues, directed by Christina Walker, a theater professor at Pima Community College, and performed by 12 professional actors at the Rialto.
Tickets are required for the four indoor events at the Screening Room and at the Rialto Theatre. One ticket gets holders into all four events. Tickets, $15 general and $12 for students, seniors and military, are available in advance at Antigone Books, Bentley's, Zip's University Boulevard and Hear's Music. Tickets priced at $18 and $15 will be sold the day of the event at the door at the Screening Room and the Rialto until they run out. People of modest means may call 743-8344 for reduced rates.