Today we celebrate legendary playwright, activist, and author Eve Ensler, whose play, The Vagina Monologues, has become a catalyst for women’s empowerment. V-Day, the global activist movement Ensler founded, has brought the play to communities across the world, even to places where the word “vagina” is taboo. Today, through performances, programming, and the One Billion Rising campaign, Ensler and V-Day continue to widen their reach, deepen their impact in local communities, and include diverse, immensely talented cast-members in performances of The Vagina Monologues. Here’s a look back at just a few of the many groundbreaking performances and programs that Ensler facilitated.
1. V-Day is born
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V-Day began at a benefit performance of The Vagina Monologues in 1998 which raised $250,0000 for anti-violence groups in New York City. The evening featured the likes of Gloria Steinem, Whoopi Goldberg, and Glenn Close.
2. Women of color play a permanent role in The Vagina Monologues
After Ensler concluded her solo run of The Vagina Monologues, the play switched format to include three actors. Ensler wrote into her contract that a woman of color must always be part of the cast.
3. The Vagina Monologues first performed in the Philippines
The first production of The Vagina Monologues in Manila, Philippines was produced by activist Monique Wilson. “In 2000, when we first staged the play in Manila, we couldn’t even say the word “vagina” on television and radio, and most newspapers wouldn’t print the full title of the play. Fourteen years later, the play and the word “vagina” have become part of our national consciousness,” said Wilson.
4. The Vagina Monologues sells out Madison Square Garden
In 2001, V-Day sold out New York’s Madison Square Garden with more than seventy actors performing. The evening raised $1 million raised for groups working to end violence against women and girls.
5. A safe house Ooens in Kenya
In 2002 in Narok, Kenya, V-Day opened its first safe house for women and girls fleeing female genital mutilation (FGM). The safe house provides shelter, education, and alternative rite of passage ceremonies to girls, and staff there work with the community to alert them to the effects of early child marriage, FGM, and a lack of education for girls. A second safe house opened in the Rift Valley in Masailand in 2009.
In 2003, Pakistani actresses gathered with grassroots activist Nighat Rizvi for the first performance of The Vagina Monologues in Islamabad, Pakistan. The play went on to tour Lahore and Karachi, andPakistani activists continue to produce The Vagina Monologues and participate in the One Billion Rising Campaign.
7. UK Politicians perform The Vagina Monologues
In 2002, four female Labour Party MP’s performed The Vagina Monologues for an audience of over 200 politicians, trade unionists, civil servants, and fellow supporters of women’s rights.
8. First all transgender performance
The first all transgender performance of The Vagina Monologues took place in Los Angeles in 2004. After spending time with trans-women in the Los Angeles area, Ensler wrote “They Beat the Girl out of My Boy…or They Tried,” based upon their stories.
9. Building the City of Joy
- Ensler dances with Congolese female construction workers during the opening of the City of Joy.
- Eve Ensler with Christine Schuler Deschryver, V-Day Congo director and director of City of Joy.
- Eve Ensler with Congolese female construction workers during the opening of the City of Joy.
- Patricipants gather in a field during the inauguration of the City of Joy.
V-Day opened City of Joy, a community for women survivors of violence, in Bukavu, Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo in 2011. It is owned and run by local Congolese and provides therapy, leadership and life-skills training.
10. The Vagina Monologues turns 10
- Kerry Washington
A star-studded cast including Jane Fonda and Kerry Washington performed The Vagina Monologues at “V To the Tenth“, V-Day’s 10th anniversary in 2008, held in New Orleans. The location was chosen due in part to the effects of Hurricane Katrina on the women in the region.
11. One Billion Rising
Launched on Valentines Day 2012, One Billion Rising has grown over the past 3 years to reach 200 countries. Taking its name from the staggering statistic that 1 in 3 women on the planet will be beaten or raped during her lifetime, One Billion Rising will continue in 2015, calling for “a radical shift in consciousness to end the global epidemic of abuse” facing women in all corners of the world.
12. Taconic Correctional Facility performance
- “For 90 consecutive minutes, the women at Taconic responded to every word that was spoken,” recounts producer Elyse Sholk. “I watched with awe as the women contemplated and processed each monologue with a range of raw emotion; there were countless moments when they responded unanimously with uproarious laughter, and rare moments when the room was filled with palpable silence.”
- “The criminal justice system has a way of dehumanizing those involved in it,” wrote producer and cast member Elizabeth Mackintosh. “I think it was very uplifting for the women in our audience to see that we were acknowledging their humanity with V-Day Taconic’s production of The Vagina Monologues. I hope they know that there are women on the outside who are thinking of them and will be cheering them on when they come home.”
- “The Vagina Monologues is an incredibly empowering piece in that it highlights the resilience of the human spirit and encourages people to share their own stories. Our hope was that the performance would spark a conversation amongst the women of Taconic, creating a platform for them to talk about the things we so often keep silent about in our experiences as women,” wrote Mackintosh.