FACE, Vox team up for biennial production of ‘A Memory, a Monologue, a Rant, and a Prayer’

Liz Sieng

Last week, Feminists Advocating Change & Empowerment and Voices of Planned of Parenthood held their annual V-Day Campaign event with the theater production “A Memory, a Monologue, a Rant, and a Prayer.” Composed of monologues gathered by the V-Day founder and author of ‘The Vagina Monologues,” Eve Ensler, the production features a line-up of monologues addressing violence inflicted upon women.

A gang rape victim, a passive bystander, a sex slave and a mother of a sexually harassed child, among several other characters, bring personal experiences of sexual transgression to the stage. Organized entirely by volunteers, this zero-based budget production surpasses any prerequisite for technical flare and shamelessly delivers personal reflections on the issue at hand.

After writing “The Vagina Monologues,”  Ensler created the V-Day movement: V standing for Victory, Valentine, Vagina: as a theater and artistic productions-based benefit to raise awareness and funds to end violence against women and girls. “A Memory, a Monologue, a Rant, and a Prayer” is one program in the V-Day repertoire used in V-Day college and community campaigns. At Whitman, the show is a student-run production in which club members lead the processes of reading and editing pieces, recruiting cast and directorship and advertising. For FACE, the V-Day performance is the biggest and most popular event of the year.

“This is a great chance for us since we’re issue-based and about education,” said junior McKenna Milici, FACE co-president and one of the seven student directors who participated this year. “This is an opportunity to bring an education program in the form of entertainment.”

For activist groups in the field of women’s empowerment and sexual health education, the choice to put on a theater production requires ardent work and talent. The performance resulted from the preparation and team effort of club members and volunteers, and the result was both artistic and effective.

“This is an important issue with people who are very dedicated,” said junior Hanna Kahl, who performed in “The Vagina Monologues” last year and “A Memory, a Monologue, a Rant, and a Prayer” two years ago.

“We needed to bring in the talent,” said sophomore FACE member Ellie Newell, mentioning how students in the theater department and other non-affiliated students directed and played roles.

The play consisted of 10 separate five- to six-minute monologues, two involving the entire cast of 11 actors and the rest performed individually by single actors. Each character had stage space to express an individual story with introspection and vulnerability, some ending in confusion or depression while others concluded in humor or clarity. At moments, their voices combined to express a common experience of pain, struggle and hope. The performers embraced the stage as individuals and as a troupe, creating a sense of group chemistry while representing multiple voices for the same cause. Although  certainly  there was a lack of experience in acting or in activism between the performers, it was unnoticeable.

In “A Teenage Girl’s Guide to Surviving Sex Slavery,” three actresses played the main role of a Congolese child sex slave as the cast filled in as the supporting narrator. In “Connect: A Web of Words,” the full cast participated in a shouting session of nouns and phrases surrounding the rhetoric of sexual exploitation.

The only weak area of the performance occurred in the choice of subject matter. The series of performances involved tales of drunken rape and sexual harassment, topics familiar to the mainstream audience. At times, these stories came off as predictable and unintriguing.

Nonetheless, these acts added perspectives to the central issue, and overall, allowed room for less conventional stories near the end.

“[Sexual violence] is not just about gender. It affects everyone,” said first-year Jeremy Kotler, who performed the story of a man who grew up in a family of raped women, the only male character in the show.

The play explores other topics such as war-induced sexual violence, counter-violence  against rapists and sadomasochism.

Each year, V-Day spotlights a particular group of women affected by the violence. Ticket prices were $5 this year, with 10 percent going toward aid and awareness funding for women in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the rest toward local organizations.

The passion and effort exerted in the planning and in the performance of “A Memory, a Monologue, a Rant, and a Prayer” resulted in a worthwhile show to experience.

“In some ways I’m preaching to the choir,” said Newell. “But my hope is that one person will come here and leave thinking differently. You wouldn’t do this play if you weren’t an activist.”

In addition to women in the Democratic Republic of Congo, FACE and VOX have chosen to maintain their yearly ritual of donating V-Day revenues to the YWCA and Planned Parenthood in Walla Walla. FACE and VOX’s next V-Day performance is set to take place in spring of 2011.