By Larry Kline/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
After a very successful performance last year, "The Vagina Monologues" is returning to the stage in Havre next week to educate women and men about beauty, sexuality and domestic violence, all while getting the audience to laugh a little.
The Montana Actors' Theater is putting on three benefit performances of Eve Ensler's play in the ballroom at the Montana State University-Northern Student Union Building Feb. 17-19 at 7:30 p.m. This year's ticket sales will benefit Hill County Family Planning as well as women in Iraq.
The production is directed by Tylyn Carmean, a junior at Northern who first saw the play while studying theater in London. She performed in the Havre show last year and has directed the play before. "The Vagina Monologues" is a mixture of serious issues and comedy, she said.
"It just deals with everything; it really talks to women," Carmean said. "It addresses how they feel about their bodies. It's reclaiming. It's empowering. It's hilarious. Women love the show because it talks about a lot of issues that aren't talked about. It talks about love, women's sexuality. It talks about rape.
"It's beautifully tied together," she added. "It just moves like a song."
The performance is not just directed at women,. Men are encouraged to attend with the women in their lives. Carmean and the actresses hope the men will come away both enlightened and entertained.
"I think it's an oppurtunity for growth for everyone," Carmean said. "There are things in it that might help men understand women. I think it's a great opportunity for men to come with their wives, mothers, grandmothers, sisters or daughters. Men need to know how to support women. It's not male-bashing; it's a celebration of women. Last year, men loved it. They just roared."
Tickets are available at the MSU-N information desk in the SUB, Creative Leisure, Mel's Food, Quench & Bench, or at the door. The cost is $8 for students and $12 for non-students. The ticket price will be reduced by $1 with a canned food donation and $2 with a donation of two cans of food.
Next weekend's production will be one of more than 700 performances of "The Vagina Monologues" held on college campuses this year. The play benefits V-Day, a nonprofit corporation organized to raise money and awareness for the fight to stop violence against women.
In the seven years since its inception, V-Day has raised more than $25 million in support for the cause worldwide. Ten percent of the proceeds from ticket sales and donations go to an international cause, with the rest of the money going to local women's programs.
This year's international focus is Women of Iraq: Under Siege. Incidents of rape and abduction have been on the rise, creating fear that has deterred women from returning to work or seeking jobs and has kept families from sending daughters to school, according to V-Day.
Armed conservative religious groups are pressuring schools and employers to require women and girls to wear the veil under threats of acid attack and abduction, according to V-Day. Women in the interim government, though few, have suffered assassination attempts.
The conditions have not deterred several Iraqi women's organizations from working to protect women's lives and demand equal representation in the government.
The rest of the proceeds from the Havre performance of "The Vagina Monologues" will go to support Hill County Family Planning. The organization offers a variety of services to women, including counseling, education, physical examinations, cancer screenings and sexually transmitted disease testing.
The Vagina Warrior award will be presented at the final performance to a local woman who has worked to end violence against women and girls. The name of the recipient has not yet been released.
Though "The Vagina Monologues" can be performed by one woman, this year's production will incorporate 18 area women, who range in age from 14 to over 60.
Vicki Van Cleave is a clinical psychologist at Golden Triangle Mental Health. The 40-year-old performed in the play last year and thought it was important enough to do it again, she said, because she understands the issues women face.
"I treat a lot of women, and people don't understand that women struggle all of the time with body acceptance and self-acceptance," Van Cleave said. She completed a portion of her training in Chicago, where she did work with incest investigation and treatment of victims. Something needs to be done in Hill County to stop the atmosphere of abuse, she said.
"I've never seen the degree of abuse I've seen here," Van Cleave said. "I want to do something for women to help themselves, to try to stop the cycle of violence here." Men are an important part of that process, she said. "Men heal men. They can take what they learn here back to their own social groups. We want them to help us make this world a better place, to make this local area a better place."
The play is more than the title may suggest, she said.
"Some people think it's all about pornography or sex, and it's not," Van Cleave said. "The word vagina just makes people uncomfortable."
Erika Apeland, 32, decided to perform after seeing the play last year. She said the play enables men to come away with "a bigger perspective of women and who we are." The play evokes a wide range of emotions for both men and women, she said.
"There's a myriad of emotions," Apeland said. "There is laughter, tears, and intense sadness in some of (the monologues). There is a 'wow' aspect to some of these, because these things are happening to women. It really opens things up."
Jennifer Sanderson, 32, moved here from San Francisco six months ago. She has acted before, but never in the monologues. She has seen the play before, but performing in it has given her a different perspective.
"I just wanted to do a play, but now it's so much different," she said. "It's made me understand so much more about what women go through. Being in it makes the play more emotional."
She said the rehearsal process has brought the cast members together. They have laughed at times, and some of the intense material has brought the whole group to tears, she said.
Bethany Pulver, 23, has never seen "The Vagina Monologues" before and thought that performing in it would be a good first experience. In her mind, the play has delivered.
"I think it lives up to the expectations I had for it," Pulver said. "It's funny and it makes you think."