By Allison Jarvis Contributing Writer

    The Vagina Monologues are back and the cast has worked hard to deliver this year’s performance with strength, power and hope for their fellow classmates.

   This performance includes a series of monologues about sexual events and body acceptance delivered from the viewpoints of women of varying ages, backgrounds, and races. It has received criticism in the past for being offensive, but others find the show to be empowering and inspiring.

   “The ultimate goal we have with the Vagina Monologues is to spread knowledge on women’s health, sexuality, and difficult topics like rape and assault,” said McCulloch. “We want to end the stigma surrounding the woman’s body, and we want others to be more comfortable talking about their struggles. We want people to talk about this stuff regularly.”

   Because of the casts passion to fulfill their goal, the emotion needed to significantly illustrate the monologues is already present. Mary Ellms, one of the directors, said, “This year, we haven’t had to do much to help the actors access the emotions behind the pieces with the #metoo movement and other recent events around sexual assault, sexuality, gender identity, and feminism, the actors are already understanding these monologues in ways that I didn’t as a UMF student a little more than a decade ago.”

   With only a month to rehearse, the cast did not waste a minute: “We have such a short time to prepare for the show, like three or four weeks,” said cast member Pearl Wilson, during an email interview. “A lot of the work we do is in memorization and being able to tell the story of our monologue.”

   The cast begins memorizing their monologues early on, since “each rehearsal involves at least one run-through of the show or a run-through of each person’s monologue,” said cast member Eila McCulloch, “There’s a lot of work and effort that goes into each one.”

   “I spend a lot of time with the script,” said Ellms, one of the directors. “I read and reread each monologue dozens of times and build an image in my head of what I’d like the overall picture to be for that monologue.” Ellms admitted, though, that sometimes this image will change during the rehearsal process due to the ideas presented by her co-director, Pickering, or by the other performers.

   Ellms is not the only person who presents a goal for each monologue. “For me, it’s about opening conversation,” said cast member Bethany Wicks. “It’s about not being afraid to talk about vaginas or even just saying the word.” Wicks sentimentiments reveal the casts overall goal for the production.

   The monologues cover some sensitive topics that might be triggering to some people. A few describe harrowing tales of sexual assault in strong detail. “Some of these monologues are really hard to process,” said McCulloch, “luckily for me, I have a more humorous monologue this year. But even listening to some of the others is difficult. One of Jurnee’s [Vagina Monologues cast member] lines makes me tear up every single time she says it.”

   According to Ellms, though the monologues “can be triggering,” they are also necessary. Ellms recalled a conversation that the cast had during a rehearsal about how audience members will most likely be able to connect at least one line of the performance, maybe even an entire monologue, to their own lives: “If that’s really true,” said Ellms, “then we have to tell these stories for the people who are living similar experiences but who can’t tell their own stories yet. These monologues allow a lot of people to feel ‘seen,’ even if they’re not ready to share their personal experiences.”

   But despite the heavy-handed emotions, the directors and cast members were determined to deliver a message of empowerment and are hopeful that the audience will still be thinking about it after they leave. “I think the Vagina Monologues can make people uncomfortable just because people usually don’t talk or think about vaginas like that,” said Wilson. “I hope that people confront their discomfort or even become empowered to love their own vagina.”

   One cast member recalls how the Vagina Monologues empowered her. “The first time I saw the Vagina Monologues, I was in the eighth grade and I had giant googly eyes the entire performance!” said Wilson. “It blew my little brain! The Vagina Monologues empowered me as a young woman so I am happy I get to be part of them now.”

   If anyone wishes to participate in the Vagina Monologues, the show is performed once every year on campus. Contact Mary Ellms or Gavin Pickering for details.