On March, 5 the ARTiSHOCK theatre showed an unusual play under the title Vagina Monologues. Such a provocative title was slightly frightening – they can show anything! There were few of us, “scared” like this, who gathered in the cozy foyer – about thirty people. Yet, the small underground premises of the avant-garde theatre could not accommodate more anyway. Me, and the whole female audience – we all were glad that there were men among the spectators. There were only about five men, but they did attend.
This theatre piece dazzled me. No, not with its extravagance and distinctiveness, although it did have them. Not with its subtle humour and sincerity, although it did have them, too. I was amazed by tenderness, frailty, and braveness of its heroines. The form of the play itself is very simple – it’s just monologues. No action – only the story-telling. Stories that are being told by different women, about their inner turmoil, their heartache , and about the violence –not only physical. Ten very different stories.
The audience laughed – yes, it was really funny sometimes. The audience secretly sighed: women visitors recognized themselves in the women that were on stage. The audience sympathized with the heroines, because each of us may face similar problems. And then, the audience was proud of them – not any of us can tell everyone in such a courageous manner, without any shame and choosing words, about her very personal and very female stuff…
I came up to the actresses after the show. And I was surprised to know, that they were not actresses! They are the same ordinary women living in Almaty, just like me. And it was their personal involvement that encouraged them to participate in this extraordinary project. Because it was intended to tell us about feelings of women of different ages, to narrate in an overt and unembellished manner about problems of violence, to collect donations for the local emergency response center, and also to call for the unanimity of women and men against the violence inflicted on women and girls. And money gathered from the sale of tickets will be transferred to support the Haven emergency response center for women and children.
Dina Ighilikova, the organizer of the show: In Almaty this play has been shown for two years, on the stage of the ARTiSHOCK theatre, the only stage where they realize that behind its provocative title there is something much more significant than just a female organ discussion. The Vagina Monologues was shown for the first time in 2011 in the framework of the Youth Art Camp on the basis of KIMEP. Back then the play was staged with the help of activists from Bishkek, where the play has been on stage for several years. However, when I sent my request to KIMEP in 2013, the University management being considered the introducer of liberal arts in our country was probably confused by the title. They refused to provide us with their premises, and so we left and joined the more understanding ARTiSHOCK. And it was a correct decision, because it’s just the small capacity of its theatre that endows these monologues with the peculiar atmosphere and sound. Its only limit is its size. Both last and this year there were much more of those who did want to attend the show, than the theatre could accommodate. This time tickets were sold out in one day.
Dina told us that among the truly heroic and very very talented women participating in the play there are psychologists, doctors, personal development coaches, fashion designers, masters of style, and bank employees. But above all they are all mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters.
DI: The age of our participants is 25 to 60. They found their way to the audition, because their friends told them about this. And first and foremost, they were very eager to participate in the project themselves. For me this aspect is essential. There were those who came and said “I want to know how it feels to be on the stage”, and I had to reject them. It’s not a matinee for kids where we distribute poems to recite. If a person feels like being on stage, he or she should probably try to sing karaoke, but shouldn’t come to us. You don’t have to act in the Vagina Monologues, you must be able to go through them with the heroines of the play, to understand them, and to demonstrate these stories before the audience properly.
Eve Ensler, the famous American playwright, wrote this play in 1996. Its subject became real conversations of the author with real women. They were white, black, Asian, young and aged, successful and not very successful. At first the writer read these monologues herself on the stage, and today it’s a major global movement against violence – V-Day, that is popular in 76 countries. And the play is shown in different countries of the world on the basis of universities, local women and girls’ anti-violence institutions, on major grounds such as Madison Square Garden in New York, and in theatres. The play was also shown even in such Islamic countries as Turkey, Indonesia, Egypt, and Pakistan. Both celebrated actresses (you may find their list here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Performances_of_The_Vagina_Monologues) and ordinary women that are personally involved with the theme take part in the play.
DI: Who are our spectators? These are women and men of our city who attend because they want to experience the range of various emotions, to hear what he or she could probably only think but never speak before, even concealing it from himself, to unmask some stereotypes, and, last but not least, to support the V-Day campaign. We do love our audience, and we do understand how subtly she or he can perceive the play. I never promise a brilliantly staged theatre piece, but I always promise my viewer that he/she is going to laugh and cry. And thus it usually happens. Each participant has her own reasons to be in the show. Some was abused in the past, and it has been like kind of therapy for them. Others have children – adult or still small, and they want them to live in the world where this problem is not hushed up. Any of us became the eyewitness of this or that kind of violence at least once in her life. It gives you a wrong vision of it in your mind – you think that it’s normal. No, it’s abnormal, it’s not a joke, the tragedies of human lives are behind all this. And if we don’t conceal such facts, if we bring up our daughters with love and respect towards themselves and their bodies, only then will it be possible to change people’s minds. And the last reason why they agreed to participate – it’s probably the atmosphere we’ve created: imagine that ten unfamiliar women gather together, speak about their personal problems, share their pain, find themselves new friends. It’s really worth it.
After the show, as Dina confessed, the organizers of the play discussed their plans for the next year, and new remarkable idea was born: to arrange the show in five Kazakhstani cities at the same time. And it only seems that hard. Actually, as Dina is sure, inner decisiveness and courage is what you need. So, courageous women from various regions of Kazakhstan, respond! You may become organizers of this show in your native place. And as for Dina, she is ready to help both with advice and practical issues settlement. Her email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Photos by organizers of the event