By Jerome Tharaud/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
When Margaret Meggs saw the amount that the V-Day organization, which sponsors local productions of "The Vagina Monologues," expected the benefit play to raise during three Havre showings last week, she was taken aback.
"When I read on the Web site that they wanted us to raise $6,000 just like huge universities in big cities ... I was overwhelmed, and not in a good way," said Meggs, director of ReSPONSE, a Montana State University-Northern campus-based agency that provides education about relationship violence and refers victims to other local service organizations.
Meggs thought realistically the play would be successful if it raised just half that.
That was until the performances began.
On opening night Thursday, the MSU-Northern SUB was set up to receive about 70 people, said Sylvia Murray, who acted in the performance. Soon before the show, she said, there was a problem: There weren't enough seats, sending organizers scrambling to the basement for chairs and even couches. More than 150 showed up.
By Saturday night's performance, the play had raised $5,900. Some money is still due from some of the five local organizations who each reserved a table for Saturday's performance, which, at $25 a seat, included wine and hors d'oeuvres.
"We know we'll be over $6,000 and it just seemed an enormous sum at first, and impossible to come up with. That's another really wonderful thing for us," Meggs said.
Of that money, 70 percent will be donated to the domestic violence program at the District IV Human Resources Development Council, 20 percent will go to ReSPONSE, and 10 percent will go toward a program to end abuse of women in Juarez, Mexico, where 300 women and girls have been killed or reported missing in the last decade.
Annual benefit performances of the play are funded through V-Day, a nonprofit organization founded by playwright Eve Ensler. It helps raise awareness about sexual and domestic violence, and helps fund anti-violence programs in the communities where it is performed.
The organization has raised more than $20 million since its inception six years ago.
The cast had been prepared for flak after the play. "The Vagina Monologues" includes frank discussions of women's experiences, ranging from the humorous to the somber.
"We had a meeting that talked about how to handle any negativity we might receive," Murray said. That might include negative comments by people offended by the show's explicit content. "And it didn't happen except for very small instances," she said. After one performance she heard people who expressed surprise at the language of two of the monologues, but they were not critical. Another actor received comments suggesting she was a lesbian because of one of her monologues.
The group of actors will meet once more to talk about the experience and any negative comments they may receive, she said.
"I thought the audience appreciated the humor of the pieces and also respected the solemnity of some of them," Murray said. "Because some of that stuff was pretty hard - sad facts. They were pretty receptive to the emotion being presented to them at the time and responded appropriately."
Director Pam Veis said she has received only positive feedback so far.
"My belief is that the people who were offended by the title didn't show up," Veis said. "I personally haven't received any negative comments for doing the show. People that approached me after the show were grateful and were impressed and were thankful that it came to Havre."
Veis added that six women who acted in the play were on stage for the first time.
"I thought they were very brave, and they just blew me away," she said.
Meggs also said she had only heard positive feedback.
"We've had people tell us that it changed their perception of their whole lives and that it's made a difference in how they understand gender relations," she said.