Feeling the ‘Superlove’: Playwright Eve Ensler gets New Orleans ready for a star-studded 10th anniversary
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By Doug MacCash
An unusual second-line chugged rhythmically down Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard on Sunday afternoon to the blare and beat of brass-band music. The marchers called themselves Katrina Warriors. Most were women, some wore pink T-shirts with a symbol that suggested a body part that women have and men don't.
Eve Ensler -- the woman near the front of the parade, with the jet black bangs, waving the pink peacock feather -- wishes it weren't so hard for most of us to use the word "vagina." In 1996, she wrote a play titled "The Vagina Monologues" that became an international feminist phenomenon, helping usher the V-word from the shadows into the spotlight.
"The most radical play I'd ever written went mainstream," she told a gathering of 150 mostly female students at the University of New Orleans on Friday, the blustery night before the parade. "I never could have dreamed of this. I was just trying to get the word 'vagina' out of my terrified mouth."
Ensler said she felt that society's reluctance to use the word implied unjustified shame. "The Vagina Monologues," she said, has helped dispel that attitude, inspiring strides in women's dignity and safety.
"We've had incredible victories," she told the UNO audience. "We've changed the landscape of the dialogue."
The play, based on intimate interviews with women, has been staged 4,000 times since its first New York production, from Pakistan to the Philippines to Iceland to Haiti, said Ensler, who has been on a 16-city tour promoting what will be the grandest "Vagina Monologues" ever: a star-studded extravaganza titled "V to the Tenth" on April 11 and 12 at the Superdome and New Orleans Arena.
Oprah Winfrey will lead a cast that includes Jessica Alba, Glenn Close, Rosario Dawson, Sally Field, Jane Fonda, Salma Hayek, Christine Lahti, Julia Stiles, Marisa Tomei and Kerry Washington, with musical performances by Common, Eve, Faith Hill, Jennifer Hudson and Charmaine Neville.
Ensler said that each year she chooses a location to celebrate the anniversary of the play and raise money for the anti-violence nonprofit organization she founded. For the 10th, she considered staging V-Day, as she calls the anniversary, in Nairobi, Kenya, and other locations, but settled on New Orleans, where the effects of Hurricane Katrina still are being felt.
During her talk at UNO, Ensler read an original poem that was both comic and tragic, in which she described New Orleans as the most female aspect of America. The city long satisfied the country's desires, she said, yet the country "disowned" her when she had needs.
The desperate situation among New Orleans residents in the Superdome after the flood inspired her to plan an April conversion of the Dome into an enormous free healing, arts, education and entertainment center dubbed "Superlove."
The story of the post-Katrina Superdome, she said, was "the story of the world."
"The idea is to make sure that everything that should have happened in the Superdome in the flood, happens in those two days," she said of the April event.
Ensler said that during a news conference on Friday with Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu, Carol Bebelle of the Ashé Cultural Arts Center and Mayor Ray Nagin, the mayor had an emotional moment, "kind of a flashback to the storm," as he described women holding their babies during the evacuation.
Ensler said she plans to bring 12,000 women from the Katrina diaspora back to New Orleans to see "The Vagina Monologues" and participate in "Superlove."
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To contact the Katrina Warriors, go to www.katrinawarriors.net.