Never underestimate the power of women, friends.
At the beginning of this year, I couldn’t have imagined that in a mere 4 months I’d have a sell out show on my hands and a demand for it that right now feels daunting considering the size of the cast. But each of the women in the photo above, as well as our director Jo Egan, (not to mention our male assistant director Colm Gorman and two crew members David Willis and Stephen McVicker) have given their time and energy without compensation for this play. The box office receipts for Friday’s show have yet to come in and hopefully there’ll be a small amount for each of us but it’s nothing near what they all should be paid for the work they’ve done.
Friday night was very special. We arrived at the Black Box in the afternoon and walked through some of the play to get adjusted to the more limited performing area. There was no time for a full dress nor technical rehearsal. We hadn’t all been together in the same room since the show in February. We’d managed ad hoc rehearsals working around people’s full time work, child care and family commitments.
At one point, the twelve of us crammed in the tiny dressing room back stage, moments before we started the show, someone said what we were all thinking,
‘Why do we put ourselves through this?’
There was an outburst of nervous laughter, an admission of nausea, a crampy tummy, an irrepressible need to pee and at least one of us asked quietly ‘Do you actually think I can act?’ Someone’s babysitter was not following the plan at home, someone else’s elder child had been left in charge, someone had had to leave work early, someone else had exams looming. We all had other places we could have been that would not have needed us to go out in front of over 100 people and perform a show about vaginas, that would not have needed us to remember lines, overcome fear, expose ourselves to criticism, risk making a mistake and looking foolish.
But we lined up anyway, and on the word from the stage manager, we marched on stage and began;
‘I bet you’re worried.
We were worried.
We were worried about vaginas….’
It turned out to be a great show. The bar was raised high and every actress gave her all. There was laughter and tears and sounds of agreement and affirmation. It was with great relief that we bowed to a standing ovation from the audience who had been engaged and respectful throughout. It was good to leave the stage on a high.
At the interval, before we showed excerpts from Eve Ensler’s documentary film and hosted a post show discussion, a woman came up to me and introduced herself. Her name was Karin and she was my contact from Woman’s Aid, to whom we had donated the proceeds of the last show. This was her first time seeing the show and she loved it.
‘I want you to know,’ she said ‘that all of the money you raised from the show in February went towards creating Northern Ireland’s first rape crisis helpline.’
There it was. The why.
I was approached by a young guy in his twenties who seemed visibly moved. He talked about his mum and how she had instilled in him a respect for women that he was grateful for but that the show had really touched him and made him realise how important this conversation was for men as well as for women. He said he was going through a transition time in his life and had recently moved back to Belfast. He was questioning the model of masculinity he had grown up with and seeing some of its toxicity.
There it was again. The why.
In the post show discussion, a woman rose her hand to share that having been the victim of a violent attack in the past, she had ‘shut up shop’ but that the show had made her think that perhaps it was time for a ‘refurbishment’.
In the light of recent swinging cuts to arts organisations here in Northern Ireland, and a patronising attitude towards practitioners where we’re accused of being bad at business and incapable of managing our resources, Friday night proved to me how vital and valuable a show like ours can be.
Right in the heart of Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter, on a Friday night, we packed out a top venue and talked about issues central to women’s experiences; menstruation, birth, body shaming, the male gaze, sexuality, violence and rape. At one point two audience members left after collapsing in giggles during the monologue inspired by the rape of women as a weapon of war during the Balkan conflict in the 90s. We later discovered that each of them had been victims of rape and that the piece in question had triggered a nervous reaction that manifested as laughter, a very common reaction to trauma.
With the #metoo movement highlighting just how prevalent sexual assault is and with numerous women all over the world rising to say enough, there was never a more important time to talk about these things in the public arena. We are proud to be taking the conversation out of the kitchens and behind the closed doors and into the heart of public discourse. Come with us as we continue our journey.
The Vagina Monologues will be returning to the Lyric Theatre in Belfast for two nights on the 1st and 2nd of June. Tickets will soon be available from the Lyric box office. Spread the word and sign up for the email to keep updated on news about the show.