“The Vagina Monologues” has returned to Muhlenberg for another year, but this time with a necessary yet motivating call-to-action performed purposefully just two days before Election Day. A cast of 12 students utilized the intimate environment of the Red Door to speak truthfully on the experiences, both oppressing and empowering, of people with vaginas. Director Haley Arnold ‘23 and assistant director Spyro Coffin ‘25 provided the space for cast members to raise their own voices, as 75 percent of the production was made up of self-written work, deviating from the original script written in 1996 to align with personal experiences and the threats facing those with vaginas today. For this reason, this particular production was entitled, “The Vagina Monologues: A Retelling.”
Entry into the event cost a minimum donation of $2 that would be donated to Valley Youth House and SisterLove. Coffin comments on how the production team came to elect these organizations, saying, “I wanted to donate to an LGBTQIA+ organization since I’m a queer individual who dedicates a lot of my life’s mission to help people like myself. I also have always wanted to help children, especially queer children, find safe housing. We decided to donate [to Valley Youth House], also due to it being a local organization, and also SisterLove–an organization to eradicate the [challenges] of HIV, sexual and reproductive health rights [for women] while also impacting women’s lives through education, prevention, and support. That is what our production of ‘V Monologues’ was all about–education and support of reproductive health and rights. I’m grateful that we chose these two organizations, and that we raised so much to aid them in their missions.”
“It had to happen right before midterms, it needed to be on the minds of people who were going to see it when they went to vote.”– Haley Arnold ‘23
When audiences entered, they were given a choice of wearing a green, yellow or red sticker, indicating how comfortable they were with cast members approaching them and setting the precedent of just how interactive this performance would be.
Arnold’s opening comments just before the performance began included how this production would be an attempt to step towards a more inclusive version of the show, making it about the stories of people who are experiencing it presently. The environment for the next two hours was light-hearted and engaging, while also allowing ample room for cast members to speak profoundly on their experiences with sexuality, gender identity, relationships, the empowerment of female bodies and the overturning of Roe v. Wade.
“We decided very early on there was going to be no question what our show was asking you to do, and there was gonna be no question about when it was going to happen. It had to happen right before midterms, it needed to be on the minds of people who were going to see it when they went to vote,” says Arnold, surrounding their decision to focus this production on the overturning of Roe v. Wade that occurred in June. They continue, “We are in a state where abortion rights are very much on the ballot in the mid-term elections and midterm elections tend to have less voter turnout because people just don’t see it as important…I just decided very early on that there was no way I could do this show and ignore that context.”
“The Vagina Monologues” script was passed down to Arnold from Phi Johnson-Grimes ‘22, who directed the production last year. One of the most notable contributions Johnson-Grimes made to the production was replacing monologues with potentially harmful themes with those self-written by cast members surrounding their own experiences, and Arnold noted, “We wanted to continue this but in a more extreme way…It was about making sure that we were diversifying the voices in the best way we could from the people that were interested.”
Over a three week period, the cast and crew of “The Vagina Monologues” met twice a week and focused on building community, doing activities together and spitballing ideas for the production’s “interludes.” Arnold and Coffin also held individual rehearsals with cast members where they worked on their individual monologues. “After writing my own monologue based on my own life last year for ‘Vagina Monologues,’ I knew exactly where the majority of the authors/actors of their own monologues were going to go. I knew that their experiences and lives were their own, and wanted to let them know that we were/are a safe space for them to share whatever they were most comfortable with. I wanted audiences, too, to learn something, and to know that vaginas aren’t a scary topic to cover—that they shouldn’t be looked down upon, and rather should be learned about, laughed about and loved,” says Coffin.
“If I wasn’t in such a supportive environment it would have been more difficult to tell my story.”– Dylan Sheppard ‘25
Cast members Lili Daskais ‘23 and Dylan Sheppard ‘25 both wrote and performed their own monologues for this year’s production. Daskais stated, “I tend to write a lot at first and it can be pretty disorganized so once I had a draft, Haley helped me structure it and gave me suggestions for revision.…Haley gave me a lot of freedom with what I wanted to do and write about; they mainly made sure that my monologue fit well into their overall vision for the piece and that it was connected to the anatomy in some way—I’m talking, of course, about the vagina…Interacting with the audience was such a blast; I felt like I really connected with audience members, even if it was just for a moment.”
Sheppard wrote, “Talking about periods is a taboo and I always feel weird bringing it up unprompted. I am grateful for this experience because it gave me that prompt. I worked for most of the time with Spyro and we worked on figuring out the best way to say everything I wanted to within a short period of time. He was also very supportive when I was having more rough days with it and I really appreciate that. If I wasn’t in such a supportive environment it would have been more difficult to tell my story. So I’m grateful for this experience.”