By: Carly Moore
“Vagina! Say it! Vagina!” I shriek at my mother, chasing her up the stairs.
“No!” my mother shouts back, laughing as she runs into her room.
A self-identified country-bumpkin, my mother has no intentions of saying the word vagina. She was raised Methodist with a touch of conservatism, and she does not know how to handle her daughter being cast in The Vagina Monologues, which she refers to as, “that play you’re in.” Shouting “vagina” at her over the course of winter break is sensitivity training for when she has to hear it for two hours in April.
April arrives. Twenty of us on stage are shouting, “Ta ta ta ta til la la la” in rounds, dressed in varying shades of pink, red, or black. For the past seven months, we have been practicing moaning, blocking, and projecting – but tonight we perform. Colloquially referred to as “vaginas” by each other, we are the 2014 cast of Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues. As we warm up, I keep thinking about how my mother will react to me performing a nine-minute monologue about being a sex worker who only works with women, while sporting a bustier, garter, thigh highs, shiny leather boots, and riding crop. I am this year’s “Woman who loved to make Vaginas Happy,” or simply, “The Dominatrix.” I am a freshman at the University of Maryland, and I am sweating terribly.
Colloquially referred to as “vaginas” by each other, we are the 2014 cast of Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues.
Gabby and Erika, the co-directors, continue the warm-up and direct us to our places back stage during the show. We are in Ulrich Recital Hall, an intimate stage with caramel-colored hardwood floors and an air of sophistication. Its size—just big enough that I feel important, but small enough so I don’t feel lonely standing center stage—fits the novice actor like a pen snapping into its cap with a sharp click. Glancing at the expanse of empty, but soon to be filled plush burgundy seats, I can’t stop picturing myself rolling an ankle in my heels and tumbling off stage in a very non-dominatrix-esque fashion.
“Vaginas backstage!” booms Camille, a veteran performer but newcomer to the show, and another freshman cast member. During one of the first rehearsals, she shared her “vagina fun fact”—she never shaves it. Appropriately, she will kick-off the monologues of the show in about thirty minutes with her piece, “Hair.” Half of us head to the left wing of the stage, and the other half to the right. Behind the doors, we find the angular space the twelve of us will share for the next two hours. The room contains two chairs, a couple of cardboard boxes, a bathroom, a screen with a live visual feed of the stage but no audio, and an intercom system that broadcasts to the other room backstage.
“Hello vaginas,” grumbles a distorted voice – Camille found the intercom in the other room.
Apparently I’m not the only one who is sweating profusely, because four girls ask each other for deodorant while most of us are cramped in the elementary school sized bathroom applying make-up and rearranging garments.
“Did you buy those for the show or did you already have those?” asks Zoe, referencing the red garter peeking from under my flowy, black skirt. “They’re so fun,” she adds as she struggles with her body-hugging scarlet dress that has been pulled only halfway up her torso after five minutes of work. I first connected with Zoe, a free-spirited sophomore, when we both disclosed our curiosity about DivaCups to each other, mainly concerned with how you’re supposed to empty them in public bathrooms.
“I’ve had them for a while. I don’t ever use them. I just like trying them on every now and then and dancing around my room,” I respond, no longer afraid to be blunt.
When I had to share my “vagina fun fact” at the first rehearsal, I eyed the door as my turn approached and sped through my story with a panicky voice; my cast mates were the first to know it took me a whole day to figure out what the brownish-red stains in my underwear were when I first got my period.
“How’s my lipstick?” asks Zoe. The cherry pigment has made its way onto more skin than lips, so I dutifully lick a finger and rub the escaped lipstick from the sides of her mouth. Leaving the bathroom, my cast mates have started chanting their pieces, finding a zone in the cramped room and locking in their focus on a range of topics from female ejaculation, birth, sexual abuse, tampons, to OBGYN visits. Amid the symphony of vagina-related discourse, Camille continues to interject on the intercom with outlandish comments, frequently breaking our focus and spurring roars of laughter.
“I can hear what’s going on backstage from nearly the back row—you guys can’t be this loud during the show,” calls either Gabby or Erika from the burgundy seats. We quiet down, and excited smirks creep onto our faces as the minutes between now and show time slip away.
After a while, the sound of heavy wooden doors opening sends a shockwave through the theater and our smirks turn into anxious giggles. The hum of the audience filtering into their seats grows until voices compete with one another, and I can no longer resist the urge to peek out the door. Stepping over purses, make-up bags, and clothes, I head to the door and get a glimpse of the buzzing auditorium. After a moment’s glance into the crowd, my nervous system cranks into overdrive; my garter feels tighter and my boots feel smaller. Dani, a junior and second-time vagina, calls me back to the group with a reassuring smile and animated thumbs up.
“Hey look,” whispers Becca, a third freshman on the cast, pointing to the screen that now shows Gabby and Erika on stage. After their speech, Gabby and Erika wait for the audience’s final claps, give each other a smile, and walk off stage.
It’s show time.
“Let’s hope I don’t screw this up,” says Zoe as she shakes her arms and legs before walking through the door and into the luminous light of the stage with the two other cast members in the introductory piece, “The Eves.”
In no time, Zoe has the audience cracking up, so I check the screen to see what launched the laughter. Zoe is on her back facing the rear of the stage with her legs spread wide open, pantomiming how someone would examine their vagina with a hand mirror. She gets through ever line of her piece perfectly, and Camille takes the stage.
After Camille’s monologue comes “Lists.” The piece calls for the entire cast to deliver a string of one-word responses to the questions: “What would your vagina wear?” and “If your vagina could talk, what would it say?” My lines are, “Mink, angora, a slicker, oh yeah, more please, and that’s better.” Walking on stage, I am hyperaware of my presence; I keep shifting, rearranging my arms, wondering if the audience can tell I have sweat stains. While jetting my eyes around the audience, I finally lock eyes with my mother. Despite not even being able to say the word “vagina” when I first told her I was cast in the play, there she sat with a motherly grin of awe and pride.
It’s time for me to say my first line. I worry my voice won’t work.
It’s time for me to say my first line. I worry my voice won’t work. Thankfully, it does. I never thought saying “mink” could be so difficult. I keep glancing at my mother. I have to stop myself from looking down at the caramel-colored floors. Audience members—look at them. Stop shifting. Stop worrying about sweat stains. Smile. After a mental boot camp, I’m finally feeling adjusted to the stage, but the piece is over—back to the cramped room.
Once in the room, focus takes over the group again, and the familiar murmur of women chanting about vaginas the room fills. While everyone is in their zone, I change into my full dominatrix outfit. I shed the longer, flowing skirt in favor of a form-fitting mini-skirt, which displays the full effect of my red garter and lace-trimmed thigh highs. I exchange the now sweat drenched maroon t-shirt for an intricately decorated bustier with a harsh zipper up the back. Toying with the riding crop Gabby and Erika bought from a sex shop on Route 1, I begin to feel more like a dominatrix and less like an English and secondary education major.
Toying with the riding crop Gabby and Erika bought from a sex shop on Route 1, I begin to feel more like a dominatrix and less like an English and secondary education major.
“The Woman who Loved to Make Vaginas Happy” is next on the program. I begin shaking out my hands, going over the tough transitions in my mind, and reassuring myself that my mother won’t have a heart attack when she sees my outfit. In the midst of panic, I manage to tell my cast mates, “Watch my mother’s face while I’m performing; she’s front right, wearing a gray scarf and jacket.”
I am jolted from my minor meltdown by the audience joining Aubrey’s shouts of, “Cunt! Cunt! Cunt!” In a blur, Audrey runs off stage, the audience quiets, Erika delivers the introduction, the entire cast comes on stage, and finally, the screen in the tiny room shows no movement – it’s waiting for me.
I walk through the doors and instantly want to turn around. Without consciously choosing to, I start my monologue by seductively telling the audience, “I love vaginas. I love women. I do not see them as separate things.” I can’t tell if I’m remembering all my lines about dildos and being loud in bed, but I keep going. At first, I awkwardly move around my cast mates and try to gauge when to interact with them. Warming up to the stage, I saunter left to right, weaving in and out of the group of women, enjoying the decisive “clack” of my boots on the hardwood floors. The finale of my monologue—a run through of all the moans I’ve encountered as a sex worker, paired with a demonstration from a cast member—rapidly approaches and my pace quickens; I struggled the most with this part despite an arsenal of memory tricks I created for myself.
“There’s the clit moan,” I say and wait for Dani to perform a “soft in-the-mouth sound,” according to the script. I continue with the vaginal moan, the combo clit-vaginal moan, the almost moan, the right on it moan, and suddenly freeze. The name of the next moan refuses to come to mind until my brain goes full auto-pilot and makes my mouth spit out, “the rock star moan,” and Becca pounds the audience with a throaty, “OoOoh YEA.” I effortlessly list off the rest until I get to the surprise, triple orgasm moan; everyone on stage performs their moan together, growing in volume each time I smack my leg with the riding crop. The audience erupts in applause. Before going off stage, I shoot a quick smile to my mother, who is visibly taken aback but still clapping nonetheless.
“Your mother’s face was gold. As soon as you walked on stage she covered half her face with her program and kept it there for a while,” reports Dani as soon as the door closes behind us.
I’m giddy as we watch the last two monologues on the screen, and I can’t wait to go on stage one more time before the show is over—mainly because the only thing I have to say is written on a piece of paper we’re allowed to read off of. Filing on stage for one last time, I beam at my mother and wait to deliver my final line: “V-Day is a spirit: We believe women should spend their lives creating and thriving rather than surviving or recovering from terrible atrocities.”
“V-Day is a spirit: We believe women should spend their lives creating and thriving rather than surviving or recovering from terrible atrocities.”
Locking hands with Zoe and Dani, I prepare for the swoosh of the collective bow. We lose all pretenses and start to laugh halfway through, causing the audience to clap and cheer harder. Gabby and Erika give us the go ahead to leave the stage and say hello to friends and family. I zoom down the stairs and peer over heads to find my mother. At last, I see her kind face framed by blonde hair.
“Did you like the show?” I ask.
“Well, that was the most times I’ve ever heard the word vagina in my life, and I could never do it, but you were great. You’re always up to something amazing,” says my mother, giving me a hug.
“Hey, you said it! You said vagina,” I say, laughing and feeling weirdly proud of my mother.
I mingle for a little while longer, thanking my cast mates and a few audience members for their compliments. When the crowd begins to shrink and the hubbub dims, I make my way back to my mother again.
“You really did great sweetie. I’m proud of you,” she says, and we walk out of the recital hall arm in arm.