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Stagestruck: Calling Out Around the World

V-Day gives women activists a brand new beat.

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Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Women love to talk about their vaginas,” says one of the performers in Eve Ensler’s history-making theater piece about that provocative passage. First produced in 1996 to reactions that ranged from shocked outrage to “It’s about time,” The Vagina Monologues has become the standard-bearer of a worldwide liberation movement—a campaign aimed not only at liberating women’s voices and sexuality, but at confronting the epidemic of violence against women and girls.

In 1998, Ensler, who collected and adapted the personal stories that make up the monologues, founded V-Day on the tide of activist fervor her show had unleased. Each year on or around Valentine’s Day, the piece is performed across the country and around the world in various configurations, from campus readings to all-star benefits, with ticket proceeds supporting programs that work to combat gender-based violence.

Five years ago, local producers Pam and Rachel Hannah premiered an annual Valley V-Day Vagina production. This weekend, after a two-year hiatus, it’s back, in tandem with a related V-Day event. One Billion Rising for Justice, launched last year with thousands of events worldwide, is described as “a global call to women survivors of violence and those who love them, to gather safely in … public gathering places where women deserve to feel safe but too often do not.” The impulse is “to break the silence—politically, spiritually, outrageously—through art, dance, marches, ritual, song, spoken word, testimonies and whatever way feels right.”

This year’s local Rising will be, like last year’s inaugural event, a dancing flash mob held on Friday at 5 p.m. in front of First Churches of Northampton. As the organizers put it, “Everyone is invited to rise up, gather, and join in the dance.” If you’re ready for a brand-new beat, you can join in “Break The Chain,” the official dance anthem of One Billion Rising.

This year’s beneficiary of the local Vagina Monologues staging is Roots to Resistance, a project of Valley-based artist Denise Beaudet. Her cycle of 12 eight-foot-high portraits celebrates women leaders in resistance movements from a dozen countries and cultures. They include Natalia Estemirova, the journalist murdered for her reporting on human rights abuses in Chechnya; Afghan parliamentarian and women’s advocate Malalai Joya; and two Nobel Peace Prize recipients, Burmese pro-democracy champion Aung San Suu Kyi and Kenyan environmental campaigner Wangari Maathai.

Beaudet’s current project in the cycle focuses on Razan Ghazzawi, the Syrian activist whose prolific blogs have buoyed the uprising against the Asaad regime. As Beaudet said recently in her own blog, “I was immediately moved by Razan, at first because she had been detained several times for her Human Rights work, but [also because] she has what many amazing activists have, which is a passion and authenticity that people want to connect to.”

This weekend’s performances of The Vagina Monologues include a new section introducing the audience to Beaudet’s subjects and their work. That portion of the show will also be part of the Northampton Arts Council’s annual Really Big Show at the Academy of Music on Feb. 24.•

 

The Vagina Monologues: Feb. 14 and 15, 8 p.m., First Churches, 129 Main St., Northampton, sliding scale. Tickets at Broadside Books, Northampton, and www.BrownPaperTickets.com. For flash mob info, see One Billion Rising Flash Mob and Dance! on Facebook.

Chris Rohmann is at StageStruck@crocker.com and his StageStruck blog is at valleyadvocate.com/blogs/stagestruck.

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