Theater fans and women’s rights activists know Tony Award-Winning playwright, Eve Ensler, for her internationally acclaimed play, The Vagina Monologues. Soon after its 1996 premiere, she launched V-Day, a nonprofit dedicated to ending violence against women.
But the powerhouse known as Ensler was only just getting started. Her latest work, Emotional Creature, has made its Off-Broadway debut this month. It has already enjoyed successful runs in South Africa and Berkeley, California.
“It’s a girl thing,” explained Ensler as she introduced the play at a New York City press event. “It’s a huge girl experience.”
And this girl experience includes heart wrenching tales of young women around the world coping with factory work, genital mutilation, eating disorders, and a multitude of other issues.
“I don’t think a lot of young women are aware of these issues,” Joaquina Kalukango, who read a monologue about a Kenyan girl who flees home to avoid enduring genital mutilation, told us. “But strength and power come in numbers. Get together with a group of girls –anything from protesting to writing blogs to giving to organizations that help –it’s about getting involved.”
The production’s six stars, however, are anything but complacent in a world that often denies girls the most basic of liberties. Each young actress bears a spirit that is untamable, authentic, and –dare we say it—emotional.
“I’ve been with the show for two years and during this time, I’ve learned about so many things that are going on in the world,” Olivia Oguma, who read a monologue about a young Chinese factory worker tasked with making Barbie doll heads, told us. “I’ve also learned how important it is for girls and women to support each other. This piece is so much about being a unit –we work as a giant girl cell!”
We sat down with Ensler (a.k.a. the leader of this giant girl cell) to discuss this groundbreaking piece of theater, the V-Day movement, and why she’ll be fighting for women for years to come.
What was the most difficult part about adapting your book, “I Am An Emotional Creature: The Secret Lives of Girls Around the World," for the stage?
I think it was figuring out which stories I wanted to keep in and which monologues I wanted to keep in. And what the structure of the play should be –finding the arc, finding the build and the ebbs and the flows. There were so many stories I had written and experiences I had written about and I loved all of them. I love all of the characters I’ve created, so it was hard that some of them didn’t get to be in the play. But then we began to discover themes and discover groupings of ideas and groupings of themes and some things just didn’t fit in. It was actually more fun than difficult because of the music and the videos and because of everything it added to the experience.
How involved are you with the cast of “Emotional Creature”?
I’m at every rehearsal. I’ve been in every rehearsal through the whole world and this play is really, really important to me. So, I feel very close to the girls.
What do you hope your audience will take away from the play?
I hope that women and men, girls and boys will leave the theater respecting girls and women. I hope that we will value them, and not sell them and cut them and rape them and bully them and assault them and embarrass them and humiliate them and shame them and undermine them the way that we do. Also, that we respect the girl in us. It is the part of us that is open and vulnerable and compassionate and resilient and revolutionary and emotional.
You’ve been helming the V-Day movement for 15 years now. How have things changed for girls and women?
Well, I think we’ve seen many victories over the past 15 years. You know, when I started, people couldn’t say the word vagina and that’s all people seem to say these days. We’ve seen laws change, we’ve seen thousands of V-Days every year. Last year, there were 5,000 events in 18,000 places. We’ve raised $90 million to stop violence, but we haven’t ended it. And that’s why we’re doing One Billion Rising, which is our next major global action, on February 14, 2013. We’re calling the one billion women on the planet who will be raped and beaten to leave their homes and schools and offices and jobs with the men who love them and to dance. We hope this will amplify the movement to end violence against women and girls.
What does dancing symbolize for you?
Everything. Dancing for me is about taking up space. It’s about being in your body. It’s about being on the earth. It’s about being with other women and men. It’s about dancing with one person or by yourself or with a group, being in a community. It’s sacred. It’s sexual. It’s contagious. Corporations can’t own it. It’s free and it’s transcendent. And I think when a billion women and all the men who love them dance, the world’s going to shake and an energy is going to be born. We have no idea what’s going to happen.
Recently, comments have been thrown around about “legitimate rape” and female politicians have been silenced for saying the word “vagina”. How do you see these actions affecting girls?
I think it has a profound effect on girls today. We are the people of this country, so to me it was just a shock. Women and girls need to hold elected officials accountable.
We have politicians talking about “easy rape”, “legitimate rape”, “forcible rape”, we have people redefining rape. What are we talking about? And is it just pure ignorance that we’re talking about or is it really an attempt to push women back to the Dark Ages? Women in this country need to wake up and understand that this is serious. When people don’t even know what rape is about and one out of every three women on this planet will be raped or beaten, you cannot allow those people to have power.
But there are also men who do care.
Oh, yes. There are a lot of good men. There are thousands of men in the V-Day movement doing really good work –we just need more of them. Where are the good men? Why aren’t they standing up? Aren’t they outraged that their mothers, sisters, and daughters are getting raped? Aren’t they just insane about it? I don’t understand how anyone could stay quiet about it. We need to make a big deal about it. More and more men have come forward, but a lot more need to come forward if we want anything to change.
Does your involvement in the women’s rights movement ever wear you down?
You know what, I would love to be working on something else. I would love not to have my Inbox crammed every single day with the story of Malala who gets shot in Pakistan and the girl who’s gotten gang raped and had 20 men photograph her. I can just go down the list of what I see and hear every day. Every morning, story after story, I’m sick of it. I’m over it. I would love to be living in a world where I don’t have to look at those stories every day and where women don’t have to live those stories every day. We as women and men have not gotten outraged about it, have not gotten the seriousness of it, don’t understand that violence against women is the mother issue of our time, that there is no bigger issue than that on the planet, that if you destroy women, you destroy life and you destroy the future. We must become disruptive and dangerous and refuse to accept it.
Interested in seeing ‘Emotional Creature’ at the Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre? Purchase show tickets here. Regular admission tickets are $75. Student rush tickets are $20.