Despite the snow and slush, Rebecca Kelley ’14 and Lili Chasen ’15 radiate warmth as they approach me with huge smiles. “We’re so awkward,” Lili laughs as she takes a seat, “We were just standing at the entrance trying to find you—”. As if finishing her sentences happens on the daily, Rebecca chimes in, “And then we saw the bang sticker and were like ‘Yes! That must be her!’” If the bang sticker is iconic of those of us involved with the Gavel, then the clever spin off of the Beyoncé lyrics, “You can call me Queen V” T-shirts Rebecca and Lili wear are the equivalent for the Vagina Monologues.
Accompanying the shirts around campus are numerous posters proudly displaying an illuminated V with a woman’s silhouette in front. Whether Rebecca, Lili, and their cast have nailed the publicity thing, or if the title of Vagina Monologues alone is enough to garner attention, it seems like campus is buzzing about Eve Ensler’s show being performed this Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 8pm in McGuinn 121. I met up with Rebecca and Lili, the Co-Directors of the entirely student-produced show, and dived right into the excitement.
Let’s talk basics: What is the Vagina Monologues?
Rebecca: It’s a play based on a series of interviews by Eve Ensler. The interviews were with all kinds of women: all ages, backgrounds, sexualities, and on a bunch of different topics.
Lili: We also have a spotlight monologue, and that changes every year.
Rebecca: It’s funny because every year a bunch of people think it’s a story from vaginas. Like we dress up as vaginas and the monologues are from the vagina’s perspective.
Lili: Yeah! We’ve heard it so many times.
Rebecca: When my friends say that, I just look at them like “hello, do you know that I direct this show?” [they both laugh]
How did it come to BC?
[they look at each other]
Rebecca: I actually don’t know about the very start; this is the show’s eleventh year on campus. I’d assume it was the Women’s and Genders department that originally brought it over after students proposed to do it. It’s performed across the country at different colleges, totaling, I’d say, 750 performances. I guess it was just started all over by a couple of gals like us.
Lili: Yeah, by a bunch of radicals.
Tell me a little bit about the cast. What’s the dynamic?
Lili: This cast is one of my favorites! There are 22 girls including us, so we’re decently small. We have auditions at the end of first semester, and you just come and read from some of the monologues. It’s really low stress, and I think it’s the only theater presentation on campus for people who aren’t “theater people”. We only have four people in our cast who identify themselves as “theater people.” The rest of the girls who audition are usually terrified—
Rebecca: Wondering, “I don’t know why I’m here”—
Lili: Literally so many of them say, “I don’t know why I’m here,” because we like to ask them why they decided to audition. So many of our women are from families of all brothers, girls that are so quiet, with conservative backgrounds, haven’t even told their parents they’re doing the show—basically, a whole collection of girls who have no idea what they’re doing and are afraid, but are so excited and passionate and don’t know what to expect. It’s awesome.
Rebecca: By the end of the rehearsal process, we have a cast of women who are relatable since they really come to understand and embrace the monologues they’re saying.
Lili: I think it takes away the vanity of evaluating acting ability, and the entire performance becomes real. Just like you said, it becomes relatable, everything is believable.
Rebecca: What’s so great about the show is that you see the cast become so empowered, and everyone gets involved in the journey. There’s a whole flip that happens—with everyone—the quiet girls, the loud ones, even the very comfortable ones.
I love the effect theater can have. Can you talk a little bit more about the flip the cast experiences?
Lili: The first time I read the show, I thought, “Ok, this is cool, funky, alright I want to do this.” The monologues just seemed like monologues. And then a month of rehearsal happens and it transforms like crazy.
Rebecca: Oh yeah. It is amazing how much everyone—us included—grows through the process.
Lili: Around auditions it’s always like, “Oh this has nothing to do with my life,” but a month later that changes into “Oh my god, this is exactly me!” That transformation is so cool. By the end, when people are watching the girls perform, you literally believe that they’re telling us about their life. And from the performer’s view, the words all feel real and you have adopted the monologue as your own story—even if your vagina isn’t angry.
Rebecca: Or if you’re not an old woman.
Lili: It’s an extremely relatable piece; once you find yourself in it, it becomes so relevant.
That is so cool. Are all of the monologues centered on a theme? What do they cover?
Rebecca: Right away, they are all so different: some are told from the perspectives of single women, lesbians, married women, straight, old, young: that’s one of the most iconic things. Feminism is kind of criticized as being a white, middle class movement, but it’s really not, especially not in this show.
Lili: Yeah, I agree. Our monologues cover so many different kinds of issues, and within that frame, there are different styles of monologues: some are poetic, sad, funny, story dialogues; there’s a huge variety.
Rebecca: So true! When we say you’ll laugh and cry, it’s literally that you’ll be so affected you can’t move, or you’ll be laughing so hard you’re on the floor. There are really funny and empowering things that come along with owning vaginas.
Do the audience members without vaginas also appreciate the show?
Lili: Oh, yes! It’s unfortunately really common that people call it man hating, but there are even specific monologues dedicated to being in a relationship with a man and celebrating it. The Vagina Monologues are for everyone and we really want to stress that.
Rebecca: Speaking to the man issue, a lot of guys are hesitant to go, or feel almost not invited, but every woman in the cast has a strong relationship with a male: a father, brother, boyfriend. We love the men in our lives!
Lili: [laughs] The majority of our rehearsals are dedicated to talking about how much we love men.
Rebecca: Being a powerful woman is not about hating men.
Lili: It’s about love.
Rebecca: Yeah, completely. I agree with that. Celebrating women and hating men are not mutually exclusive things!
Lili: The Vagina Monologues are about celebrating life, about supporting happy strong women. There’s no negativity at all, and none dedicated towards men.
Rebecca: Yeah, I’d say happy, strong women equal a happy, strong society.
So what does the audience turnout look like?
Lili: Not as much faculty as some other shows on campus, mostly students.
Rebecca: Gender-wise, it’s probably roughly half and half. Which is awesome.
Lili: We want boys to be included; this is not a secret women show about a secret women plan. I have guy friends who come every year, and love it. We love that they love it.
Rebecca: [grins] Yeah, a bunch of my guy friends bought their tickets today and it was so cute because I got a Snapchat from them posing with them all excited.
Lili: Aww, see, they’re the best! It’s great. Plus, it’s good we encourage them because we know a guy typically isn’t going to be like, “Oh, dude, wanna go to Vagina Monologues?” But once you get them there, they always end up impressed.
How about the Jesuit aspect of Boston College—I know there’s been some controversy in the past, but do they have a similar end result of pride once they get past the “shock-value”?
Lili: There are a lot of logistics about what we can or cannot do.
Rebecca: It’s really hard for us to see controversy; we know the show inside and out and we don’t really understand why we’re fought on it every year. Although it is getting better.
Lili: Yeah, we’re not targeting anyone, we’re not forcing a belief; it’s storytelling.
Rebecca: If anything, it’s the opposite of forcing beliefs, because the monologues are telling people what works for one woman doesn’t work for another.
Lili: Yeah, all it does is embrace the sexuality that exists. I don’t think anyone can deny that there’s sexuality on college campuses. Plus, college, out of all experiences, should be the time to learn about yourself and explore, and not be afraid to talk about things.
Rebecca: It’s a big misunderstanding; we’re not promoting anything outrageous or radical. Every year we have people come up to us and thank us and express how empowered they are afterwards. That’s the only thing we promote: good feelings, love, and empowerment.
Lili: It’s basically a cast therapy session that makes them, and our audience a better person. It brings about so many positive emotions, change, and empowerment. Not once has a mob of rioting girls came out afterwards; this brings about love. I’ve never heard of a single person who walks out hating men or society; everyone walks out loving themselves and everyone.
Rebecca: It really is about love. Jesuits promote helping others, and creating a voice for the voiceless, and that’s what Vagina Monologues is doing.
Lili: We’re giving voices to the voiceless. There’s so much that happens on campus that people feel like they can’t—or don’t have an outlet to—talk about it. If anything, our campus needs this show more than others because of it. The Jesuits also promote dialogue and conversation; this show is literally a series of conversations that also help the audience be ok to talk about the things they need to talk about. And it’s crazy we get fought because literally only good things come from it; we donate all of the ticket sale money to charity!
What does the money go to?
Lili: 90% of it goes to the Justice Resource Institute, for girls at risk, and 10% goes to V Day, the company that puts Vagina Monologues on.
Rebecca: Yeah, it’s $8,000 raised for charities! And while we’re raising the money we’re giving voices to the people who so desperately need them.
That’s amazing. It sounds like you guys have it together. Do you have any changes you’d like to see happen over the years?
Lili: I would love—and just saying, we just have to hold note cards at our side to make it known its not our own words—I would love to add another show or add student-written monologues from BC students to the current monologues.
Rebecca: Yes! The BC ones could be funny, sad, anything that has to do with things that happen on campus. I would also like to incorporate men!
Lili: Yes, I’d love to have men! My goal for next year is to make it more and more relatable to our age, to our life here at BC; like we were saying, so much happens here that is unspoken that needs to be talked about.
Rebecca: That’s probably the biggest thing we stress: creating dialogue about things that need to be talked about, with professors, students, we do a talkback after the show, it’s all about creating conversation.
Lili: I auditioned last year, I got in and was like, “Oh no, I’m scared,” I read the words and I was scared! But I pushed myself to stay with it, and I was so shocked to find out that what I was so afraid of actually made me so much more comfortable as a person when I was able to say it. Talking about words makes people integrated humans; it’s amazing that we’re finding a way to reach people and encourage discussion to help people, and relieve stress on this campus.
Rebecca: When you’re uncomfortable, you learn the most, about yourself and about life.
Lili: Anything that stems off this show and reaches people is very rewarding and I think people find the Vagina Monologues to hit them in a very real and comforting way.