I walked into the Cone building and was immediately greeted by a giant vagina made of felt and craft supplies. People were using it as a background for pictures, the kind that would definitely go on Instagram later. There were also tables surrounding the entrance to McKnight Hall, representing a variety of different organizations, from the nonprofit Girls Rock Charlotte to the Women’s and Gender Studies Learning Community. I walked into the theater where a large screen contained domestic violence PSA’s. Posters with quotes lined the walls.
Where was I? This was UNC Charlotte’s Center for Wellness Promotion’s production of “Tales From Down There.” The show contained monologues from Eve Ensler’s “The Vagina Monologues,” “A Memory, Monologue, Rant, & Prayer” and “I Am An Emotional Creature.” It was a part of V-Day, a global movement with the goal of stopping violence against women and girls. All the money from the UNC Charlotte production went to three local organizations: Community Support Services, Transcend Charlotte and the IPV Fund on campus. Somehow, despite being a fan of both theater and feminism, I had never seen “The Vagina Monologues” before. I was in for a completely new experience.
The monologues came in what seemed like random order, however there was definitely planning to it. Monologues promoting self love were mixed in with awful depictions of violence. Sadness, hope, hurt and activism all flowed into one. The ensemble cast, all students at UNC Charlotte, had a clear passion for what they were performing that one could feel even as they just walked on and off the stage.
Of the 22 monologues, there were quite a few that especially stuck out, either due to writing or the acting. The first of these was “Fur is Back” performed by Maggie Gray. It tells the story of a girl, a self proclaimed “party ruiner,” who is unable to concentrate on anything other than the awfulness and violence in the world. She’s the smart and passionate version of Cecily Strong’s “Saturday Night Live” character, Girl You Wish You Hadn’t Started a Conversation With at a Party. Gray performed the piece exceptionally, full of equal mixes of anger and dry humor.
The most moving monologue followed right after: “Celia” performed by Cymone James. Celia is an immigrant from Guatemala crossing the US border in a shipping container. The monologue opens with her frantic attempts to wake the others in the container. They don’t wake up. She then tells her story, one of an abusive marriage with no way out. Cymone James truly became this woman. The entire audience was captivated and the tension was palpable.
“In Memory of Imette” was another personal favorite of mine, performed by Alexis Booth. It’s told from the point of view of a woman in New York City shortly after the brutal murder of Imette St. Guillen, an NYU grad student who was assaulted and killed in 2006. Now scared of leaving the house, the woman has become obsessed with profiling the killer. This was the one that hit closest to home for me. The reality she spoke of, of feeling unsafe walking down the street, of carrying mace just to go out, is a reality many girls live every day. I know little things I’ve been taught to do when walking alone, like calling someone on the phone or holding my keys between my fingers.
Other monologues I found to be especially notable were “Maurice,” where actress Teasha Williams made me both giggle and feel especially tense in a period of maybe five minutes, “First Kiss” performed by Hannah Kahl, and “Angry Vagina” performed by Paulina Hernandez Larumbe. Overall, the performance was an enjoyable and moving experience. It definitely brought awareness to important issues and, based on the size of the audience, was able to give a decent amount of money to community organizations. This is an annual event, one I hope will continue to grow in impact and audience. Consider taking the time out of your evening to attend next year. If the name of the performance makes you uncomfortable, well, that’s kind of the point.