The Vagina Monologues has been a global theatrical phenomenon since its first run off-Broadway in 1996, performed all over the world and by many headliner actors including Queen Latifah, Terri Hatcher, Susan Sarandon and Whoopi Goldberg. On Tuesday, the play made an appearance on a different sort of stage—the steps of the statehouse in Lansing, Michigan. Ensler joined State Representative Lisa Brown for a performance of the play and rally, after Brown was banned from a debate over anti-abortion legislation after telling legislators, ‘"I’m flattered you’re all so concerned about my vagina. But no means no." (Brown says this is due to her opponents’ discomfort with the word "vagina"; GOP legislators say her words compared the bill to rape, violating conduct.) Another legislator, Barb Byrum, says she was given a similar ban after mentioning vasectomies on the floor.
About 2,500 people came to the performance according to statehouse estimates, not just from Michigan, but from other parts of the country as well. Ensler addressed the crowd, informing them, "The vaginas are out. We are here to stay."
As the 2012 election approaches and the political climate on all issues—be they women’s reproductive issues, economic issues, education, healthcare—will undoubtedly get more volatile. And when people get passionate about an issue, there is sure to be art, or at least performance. Granted, the discourse around the word "vagina" created a particular circumstance which attracted Eve Ensler and lent itself to this production, but theatre is inherently poltiical, and the most important / hotly-debated issues at the moment usually end up on a stage. For example, late last year, New York’s Civilians theatre troupe put on Let Me Ascertain You: Occupy Wall Street, Stories From Liberty Square, a play compiled from interviews taken at Zuccotti Park.
Of course, this isn’t the first time the theatre has been used as part of political discourse in an actual statehouse, either: Louisiana Senator Huey Long famously recited the works of Shakespeare to filibuster his New Deal-supporting opponents. But Brown, Ensler and their supporters, not just in Michigan, but all over the country, chose a work with a far more pointed message to prove their point. Regardless of where they stand on the issues or of their support for Brown, Byrum and Ensler’s work, or the matters of the grounds for the censure itself, we can certainly hope that with each performance, everyone is just a bit more comfortable using a word that is, you know, anatomically correct and part of science.
Some audio and photos from today’s rally are below, taken by the team at the Lansing City Pulse: