Star-studded 'Vagina Monologues' show on Saturday (Times-Picayune)
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Eve Ensler recalls that when she was writing "The Vagina Monologues" in the mid-'90s, she had no idea that she was starting a global movement to stop violence against women.
"I just wanted to survive doing a downtown production," she said of the play, which first hit the New York stage in 1996.
What she did, however, was create the V-Day global movement, which has raised more than $50 million and financed more than 5,000 community-based anti-violence programs, supported anti-violence legislation and education as well as safe houses around the world.
Ensler also made the word vagina OK to say in 45 languages in 120 countries.
In the past year alone the monologues have been performed 4,000 times in 1,500 places, "from Ho Chi Minh City to Tijuana to Antarctica to Africa," Ensler said.
On Saturday, April 12, "The Vagina Monologues" come to New Orleans in a star-studded performance at the New Orleans Arena, which is the culmination of the 10th anniversary of V-Day, a two-day event Ensler is calling V to the Tenth.
Oprah Winfrey is among the stars who will deliver a monologue on Saturday night.
Today and Saturday, the Superdome will be transformed into "Superlove," a free event that includes performances, storytelling circles, workshops, speakers and wellness activities such as yoga and massage.
Ensler chose post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans as the site of the 10th anniversary celebration because she has been working since the storm with local groups including the Newcomb College Center for Research on Women and Katrina Warriors.
Ensler said that what happened in New Orleans and other parts of the Gulf Coast after the storm reflects the challenges that women face worldwide -- violence, racism, lack of health care and education, financial insecurity, and the failure of local and national governments.
She is bringing 1,200 women from the Gulf Coast who have been displaced and unable to return home since the floods.
"They will arrive on 17 buses," says Ensler, who will greet them upon their arrival.
Participating in the Saturday night performance are Calpernia Addams, Lilia Aragon, Stephanie Bataille, Jennifer Beals, Peter Buffett, Didi Conn, Rosario Dawson, Jane Fonda, Salma Hayek, Kristen Krepela, Christine Lahti, Ali Larter, Liz Mikel, Doris Roberts, Leslie Townsend, Kerry Washington, Monique Wilson and Oprah Winfrey, with musical performances by Faith Hill, Jennifer Hudson, and New Orleans' own Charmaine Neville.
The celebrities and speakers are paying their own expenses and giving their services for free.
The production at the New Orleans Arena has been modified with new material, including a new monologue that will be delivered by Oprah Winfrey called "Hey Miss Pat!"
"I met (Miss Pat) when she was sitting on her porch in Central City," Ensler said. "She was bereft because her church was destroyed, and she couldn't cook oxtail for the homeless on Wednesday nights."
Ensler's organization helped rebuild God's Prince of Protection church in her neighborhood.
Actress Jennifer Beals, who will perform with fellow cast members of Showtime's "The L Word," has visited New Orleans many times and spent months here in 2002 while filming "Runaway Jury," but it will be her first trip back since the storm.
The city touched her long before the aftermath of the storm gripped her heart.
"I feel a great affinity for New Orleans," Beals said. "It was the first time I saw myself reflected in someone else's face other than my own family."
This connection could happen, she said, just riding the bus.
"There were many ah-ha moments," Beals said.
When Hurricane Katrina hit, Beals was "very pregnant" and watched the television coverage from her bed. She recalled that a local fan had given her a sculpture when she was filming in New Orleans, and Beals had never written to thank her. When she looked again at the letter that accompanied the sculpture, she realized the woman lived in Slidell.
"I decided to call her in the off chance she was alive. She answered, and my call was the first phone call to come through since the hurricane. We talked for 40 minutes," said Beals, who will also take part in storytelling circles during Superlove.
Actress Kerry Washington, who spent four months in New Orleans while filming "Ray" in 2004 with Jamie Foxx, returns to perform not only in "The Vagina Monologues" but also the local debut of "Swimming Upstream," a play created and performed by local writers and actors.
She, like Ensler, embraces the concept of turning the Superdome into "a home of healing as opposed to the nightmare that it was during the storm."
She was particularly touched by a piece Ensler wrote for the New Orleans monologues comparing a woman's vagina and violence to New Orleans and the response to the storm.
The government's refusal to answer the cries of this city, Washington said, is very much like ignoring the cries of women who face violence around the world.
"I was so moved by the idea of doing the show (here)," she said.
"The world had stared in horror that this was going on. Now we are transforming that space physically and spiritually into a home of healing as opposed to the nightmare it was before the storm," she said of the Superlove event that precedes Saturday night's performance.
"It makes sense that the Superdome will be the place where women can come to heal."
Staff writer Chris Bynum can be reached at email@example.com or at (504) 826-3458.
V TO THE TENTH
What: Playwright Eve Ensler's "The Vagina Monologues" will be performed by celebrities, including Jennifer Beals, Rosario Dawson, Jane Fonda, Salma Hayek, Christine Lahti, Doris Roberts, Kerry Washington, Monique Wilson and Oprah Winfrey, with musical performances by Faith Hill, Jennifer Hudson and Charmaine Neville. Proceeds go toward support of V-Day charities for women in the Gulf South and around the world.
When: Saturday, April 12, 7:30 p.m.
Where: New Orleans Arena
Tickets: $25 to $1,000 and available at www.ticketmaster.com or by calling (504) 522-5555. For details on the theater piece "Swimming Upstream " and "Superlove" at the Superdome, see today's Living section or visit www.vday.org.