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Vagina Monologues Author Talks Of Empowerment At Nyack Theater

Originally published in:
Journal News


NYACK ‹ Moments before Eve Ensler, the award-winning playwright of "The Vagina Monologues," went on stage last night, she enthusiastically embraced two 16-year-olds backstage.

"These are my favorite vagina warriors," Ensler said, hugging the two as they arrived. "These are my heroes. I love these girls."

The teenagers were Megan Reback and Hannah Levinson, two of the three John Jay High School juniors who were the center of a national controversy in early March after they recited the word "vagina" as part of an open-mic night despite warnings from school administrators.

They were initially suspended for insubordination but later had those rulings rescinded. Their actions ignited a national discussion on censorship, female empowerment and insubordination. The third teen, Elan Stahl, could not be there last night.

"To me these girls are the future. They represent the possibility of a future that is different," Ensler said of challenging how society views and treats women. "They are smart. They are self-possessed. They are clear. They are kind. They're standing up for basic human rights. ... If the future is this, I could leave the world and go away," Ensler said.

Reback then responded: "Don't leave yet; your work is not done."

Ensler's work was the point of last night's conversation at Riverspace Arts in Nyack. The Scarsdale native spoke in front of a few hundred people about her experiences in the theater, traveling the world performing "The Vagina Monologues" and talking about women's issues.

The conversation, moderated by Gloria Feldt, an author and past president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, covered many topics, including female empowerment, rape and abuse, the importance of knowing one's body, the sanctity of theater and the global movement created by the play.

Carolyn Fish, executive director of the Rockland Family Shelter, introduced Ensler and spoke of her as a role model and extraordinary woman.

"The Vagina Monologues" was written in 1996 and is based on interviews with more than 200 women about their sexual memories and experiences. It started out in a small theater in lower Manhattan and has been translated into 45 languages and performed all over the world.

The seminal, or ovular, moment, as Ensler said during the stage interview, was when Glenn Close agreed to read the play. "That night was a big turning point," she said.

"There was a hunger that something bigger was going on," Ensler told the crowd. "Women should be empowered."

After publication of "The Vagina Monologues," Ensler founded V-Day, a nonprofit organization dedicated to ending violence against women.

The play is often performed on college campuses on St. Valentine's Day, or V-Day, and the proceeds go toward those efforts.

That foundation has raised $45 million and helped start grass-roots movements in 119 countries, Ensler said last night.

Through her travels, Ensler said she's learned that "revolution is possible."

"It feels like change is possible," she said. "What I've learned is change is possible. We're reversing the paradigm. This capacity to be bold is in all of us."

About a half-hour into the conversation, both Ensler and Feldt invited Reback and Levinson to read "My Short Skirt," the portion of the play they read at the open mic night that created the recent outcry.

When they were done, the crowd erupted and gave them a standing ovation.

Reback and Levinson spoke of how their decision to say the word "vagina" changed them and the experience has made them more comfortable with themselves and what they say.

"We went up there and did it, and I don't think we've ever been so sure of ourselves," Levinson said before the reading.

As for Ensler, she said, she never expected this movement to grow the way it has.

"I always say about 'The Vagina Monologues' is that it's a huge accident. I never set out to be the vagina lady," Ensler said. "I think that the power for women is that it's in this mystical and political place."