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Setting the Stage for Women: Return of 'The Vagina Monologues' Raises Funds to Help Women's Shelter

Originally published in:
Courrier and Press; Evansville, Indiana

By Michelle Brutlag, Courier & Press staff writer

This year, Steve Small can throw around words like "vagina" without pause - or blush.

As the returning director of Evansville's benefit performance of "The Vagina Monologues," Small said he's definitely more comfortable with the subject matter after coaching women for last year's performance.

The show, a collection of monologues written by Eve Ensler and performed nationally, is based on Ensler's interviews with more than 200 women about their experience as women. The performance is a tribute to female sexuality and strength, but also addresses the atrocities some women around the world face.

After listening Thursday to only a few women audition for roles in this year's Feb. 21 show, Small knew that casting this year's show would be much more difficult.

Part of the problem, he said, would be imagining anyone in the roles other than the women who performed last year.

"We can never re-create the first time," he said. "I anticipate some people will be back from last year ... Anyone's got a chance. They're all open. There may be some repeats, some will be different."

Auditions continue today and Saturday. The show again is a benefit for the local domestic violence and sexual assault advocacy group Albion Fellows Bacon Center.

Melanie Ruppel, a peer advocate at Albion, said she saw the show last year and loved it. She was inspired to audition for a role Thursday.

"As people left (The Victory last year), it was so uplifting," she said. "People talked about it for days afterward."

She tried several monologues for Small and Julia Kathary, Albion's residential services coordinator, and said she feels good about being funny or somber.

Being in the show was another way for Ruppel to give back to Albion, an organization she called "an essential evil" - evil because it's essential to have an organization that helps women deal with the lasting repercussions of sexual assault and domestic violence.

As a stage crew member in high school, Ruppel said she was used to being behind the scenes, but said she was very comfortable with the subject matter.

"I'm comfortable in my own skin, and what better way to express myself?" she said.

She said she hopes men come to the performance so they can become more comfortable with the subject as well.

"Vagina is an awesome word in itself. It's so empowering to say," she said.

Some of last year's monologues will remain in the show, some will not, and a few new ones have been added. Lisa Coulter read about the auditions in the paper, and thought she'd come Downtown to try her hand at reading for a part.

"I always got in to acting, it's something I always wanted to try," she said.

Some women came to audition because they enjoyed performing in the show last year.

Jenni White, who earned a standing ovation last year with her portrayal of a lesbian in the monologue "The Woman Who Loved to Make Other Women Happy," brought her son, 6-week-old Zion Jacob Cosby to her audition. White, who said she and her husband had struggled for several years to conceive, said she became pregnant the night of "The Vagina Monologues" performance. "I look at it as a whole new experience," White said. "The material is so powerful, the show could be done every year and have the same benefit for the community."

Small said he will inform the women of the casting choices sometime next week. He will hold a workshop afterward and conduct several one-on-one coaching sessions and a dress rehearsal.

The show is supposed to feel unrehearsed. Last year's performance raised $20,000 for Albion.