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V-Day Wilkes-Barre, V-Day Scranton hope to raise awareness and funds

Originally published in:

Kelly Clisham Weekender Correspondent

Popular stage production celebrates women and tackles women’s issues
“Them is always different than us. Them has no face.” Sadly, in today’s fast-paced, hustle and bustle, high-tech society, this is all too true. Something horrific may be happening to “them,” but we’re busy. Domestic violence. Incest. Murder. Rape. Honor killings. Female genital mutilation. All of these terrible things happen to someone else. We hear the news and we change the channel. We read the stories and we turn the page. As long as bad things are happening to “them,” we can look away.

Sadly, there are those who can’t look away, including the women who live with violence and fear every day. Thankfully, there as those who refuse to look away, including workers and volunteers who devote themselves to helping women overcome violent situations by providing education, shelter, escape and an alternative. There are also those that provide victims with a voice, including internationally recognized playwright Eve Ensler, who created “The Vagina Monologues” and began the V-Day movement, and local dynamos Christine E. Rock and Kimmie Wrazien, the forces behind V-Day Wilkes-Barre and V-Day Scranton.

“The Vagina Monologues” began as a one-woman show written and performed by Ensler off-Broadway in 1996. The script was born out of interviews she conducted with over two hundred women of all ages, races and backgrounds. “The Vagina Monologues” celebrates female sexuality, exposes violence in its many forms, and revels in the hope that violence can and will be stopped. Before long, Ensler realized that her work had the power to raise funds as well as awareness, so in 1998, the first V-Day celebration was held in New York City. Since then, V-Day has been held in cities and towns all over the world, to date raising more than $30 Million to combat violence against women and girls. The first NEPA celebration arrived courtesy of V-Day Scranton in 2002, and a few years later, Wilkes-Barre joined in the fun, launching its own V-Day in 2005.

V-Day Wilkes-Barre will beat her big sister to the stage this year, with a performance scheduled for Feb. 3. Rock is directing, organizing and performing for the third year running. Though the production is one night only, planning takes months, with approval coming from V-Day Worldwide in October and countless meetings, phone calls and letter writing campaigns to secure donations of funds, goods or services in the following weeks. Add to all the administrative tasks the normal things needed to mount a show - auditions, rehearsals, designing - and the list seems endless. Though V-Day is a great deal of work, Rock can’t imagine not being a part of the celebration.

“Doing V-Day is one of the most empowering and remarkable experiences,” she says. “The lives we have touched with the performance itself, and the awareness and the money we raise. Stopping violence is a requirement for the human race to continue - and as a member of the human race, how can I not help?”

Notice that Rock refers to the human race, and not just women. Says Rock, “For violence to stop, and to reclaim peace, everyone needs to help.” While many may think of “The Vagina Monologues” as the ultimate chick fest, Rock emphasizes that VDay is not about bashing men. In fact, this year for the first time, men have a more visible presence during V-Day Wilkes-Barre. Co-organizer Alan Waclawski has adapted activist Jackson Katz’s “10 Things Men Can Do to Prevent Gender Violence” for the stage and has invited 12 men from the community to read it to open the show.

After the men of V-Day Wilkes-Barre do their part, a cast of 25 women ranging in age from 15 to 70 will take the stage. While some are local actresses, V-Day encourages women from all walks of life to participate, so many will be on stage for the first time. Also, at the request of V-Day Worldwide, the women do not memorize their monologues. Since they’re meant to tell stories, not to transform into other characters, the VDay cast will be reading from index cards. According to Rock, “This allows the performer to connect with the audience, rather than worry about knowing her lines. It’s not about being an actor - it’s about being a woman.”

With just a few days left before the big night, Rock is busy tending to last-minute details and thinking about the future. V-Day Worldwide recommends that organizers only hold their positions for two years because of the enormous amount of work involved, and Rock has now put in three, so she’ll be stepping down at the end of V-Day 2007.

“I hope that the next organizer will be blessed with the most remarkable experiences, like I have been,” she says. But for right now, the future is Feb. 3, when the women of V-Day Wilkes-Barre take to the stage to reclaim peace, hopefully supported by an enormous audience ready to help with the task.

“Let the violence that happens to women and children every day and in every town offend you,” says Rock, “not the word ‘vagina.’ Everyone knows someone who has been touched by violence. Honor them and buy a ticket. V-Day Wilkes-Barre allows the men and women of NEPA to make a difference by being part of a voice that says the violence must stop.”

Less than a week later, the women of V-Day Scranton will take to the stage at the Northeast Theatre under the direction of Kimmie Wrazien. Wrazien has been involved with V-Day Scranton since the beginning, and she’s done everything from handing out programs to serving on planning committees to performing to chairing. Several years ago, Wrazien heard the rumor that V-Day was coming to Scranton. She read a copy of “The Vagina Monologues” and loved it, so she went to the first planning meeting and hasn’t been able to stay away since.

“It’s humbling and amazing knowing that you are doing something that benefits locally and is done globally, to know that you are standing up and doing the same thing that over 2,700 communities, cities and towns all over the world are doing,” says Wrazien,

After months of behind-the-scenes work, Wrazien is thrilled to finally have a cast and is enjoying seeing the women coming together, having fun, supporting and encouraging each other. Though V-Day Scranton is performing at a new venue and features a lot of new faces in the cast, there will also be, as Wrazien puts it, “voices of V-Days past,” including Alicia Grega-Pikul, Phoebe Sharp and Barb Maxwell, who, along with Wrazien, will be performing Ensler’s newest monologue, “What Happened to Peace?”

Though Wrazien finds directing and organizing to be somewhat daunting, she’s back in charge for a second year because she wanted to see the tradition of V-Day Scranton continue. Like Rock, she’ll be stepping aside following V-Day 2007, but hopes that someone will step into her shoes and help V-Day Scranton grow. But for now, she’s looking forward to Feb. 9 and hoping that the community comes out for V-Day Scranton, whether they’re newcomers or returning fans.

“If you’ve seen it before, it may be the same monologues but it’s not the same show! We have a different cast with their own personalities that they bring to it and thus their own spin. If you’ve never seen it, you will be wowed! It’s not a feminist movement or a guy basing evening. Just give it a chance. What do you have to lose? Promise you will love it, and if not, it’s a different night out and you are helping a great cause.”