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Vaginas, Uncovered

By Brian Loux

The last thing Ruth M. Perlmutter ’04 expected last Wednesday night was to walk into a lecture room and be greeted by 30 people. Strangely enough, the same thing occurred the next night.

“I never imagined that we would be able to even get a total of 30 women auditioning for The Vagina Monologues!

In total, 64 people auditioned for roles in MIT’s production of The Vagina Monologues. Female students and faculty were invited to audition for one the of twenty soliloquies about female sexuality. “Surprisingly, there were many people just from the Boston area who came to audition,” said Perlmutter, the campus coordinator and co-producer of the play at MIT.

Another co-producer worried that even such an attention-getting performance would go largely unnoticed at MIT. “I was nervous that people would be too busy or apathetic to try out,” said co-producer Shereen S. Katrak ’04. “Not only was I surprised by the numbers of auditioners, but the passion of performances as well.”

The result is even more impressive considering that other college campuses from around the nation were only able to recruit one-third that much support. “I have heard that most other schools were only able to get 20 to 25 people to come and audition,” Perlmutter said. Arizona State University, with a student body of about 50,000, was the only other school to report auditions totaling more than 60 participants as of November 12.

Popularity on campus a mystery

The success of the auditions has lead those close to the play to question why it became so popular. Some say a highly visible postering campaign was behind the surprising interest. Posters around campus included phrases such as “Vaginas Wanted” and “Do you have a vagina?” in large, bold print.

Like some auditioners, Kay M. Tye ’03 was moved by the flyers. “I thought they were so funny that I just had to check it out,” she said. “It wasn’t really until I went there that I thought of [women’s rights].”

One of the more eye-catching and controversial posters has the logo of the Volkswagen corporation with the line “Vaginas Wanted,” playing on the company’s old slogan. “The posters were meant to be out there,” Perlmutter said. “I know that they were exceptionally hard to miss and I think that helped a lot.”

Most auditioned because of the strong message the play carried. “I read the book last spring and felt it was a powerful piece for women’s rights,” said Erin R. Rhode ’04. “My friends from drama troupe told me about the play. Once I heard about it, there was little question that I would try out.”

Perlmutter suggests that the good and the bad of MIT policy may have aided their success. “We had a really easy time getting a venue booked and publicizing while other schools had a hard time writing vagina on their posters,” she said. “However, I think people showing up wanting to vent frustration shows that MIT hasn’t done enough for women’s rights.”

Some who signed up decided not to audition after seeing the content. “I decided that I wasn’t comfortable enough saying the speech in front of a large audience,” said Ines A. Sherifi ’04.

“It does take guts to talk about your vagina and fake an orgasm in front of just 30 people,” Katrak said. “It was hard for me and it was in front of people that I knew.”

Play part of nationwide campaign

MIT joins hundreds of other college campuses in the first off-broadway run of productions of The Vagina Monologues. The play, written by Eve Ensler, is a series of monologues ranging from rants about suppressed sexuality in western societies to the abuse and oppression women face in Islamic fundamentalist governments such as the Taliban. The play was an incredible success on Broadway, drawing celebrities such as Calista Flockhart and Donna Hanover, ex-wife of New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.

Ensler and other activists helped organize a college campaign for V-Day, a movement committed to ending violence against women. Ensler licensed the rights to the script for free to any college campus wishing to produce a student-run production of the play. The productions nationwide are supposed to run in a one-month block starting on Valentine’s Day of 2002.

“I read the book with [co-producer Richa Maheshwari ’04] and we were both very moved,” Katrak said. “I first looked for support on MIT before I thought about signing up as campus coordinator ... but once I felt that I had enough backing I found that Ruth was already working on the project. So we teamed up.”

Perlmutter had a similar story. “After I read the book the back of the book had a section stating ‘if you want more information go to’ and there I realized the college project had no MIT division, so I signed up on a whim,” said Perlmutter. “I just new that the cause was real.”

MIT men stay behind the scenes

Ensler has put quite a few restrictions on the play, however. Only women can produce, act, and manage the play. Men can only work as stagehands. Furthermore, lines in the play cannot be altered in any fashion unless stated otherwise. “Overall I think it’s fair because she did write the play and we need to be respectful of her wishes,” Perlmutter said. “The fact that she’s allowing people to perform it is honorable and sends a powerful message of caring over money.”

“The entire work goes to charity to help stop domestic abuse and internationally promote womens' rights,” said Perlmutter. “I know a lot of people on campus feel good about doing things to benefit charity.”

As of November 12, 414 college campuses from the United States and Canada have signed up to participate in the movement. All of the Ivy League schools except Brown and Yale have pledged to participate, as well as large state schools such as UCLA and Florida State.

MIT is one of ten Boston area schools that will stage a production. Wellesley College is not on the list to stage their own performance.

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