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'The Vagina Monologues' raises awareness and funds for victims of violence

'The Vagina Monologues' raises awareness and funds for victims of violence
McDaniel College hosts productions of "The Vagina Monologues" each year. (File photo)

While the women behind McDaniel College's production of "The Vagina Monologues" say the play has always been a vital part of stopping violence against women, organizers say this year, as women take to the streets of Washington to assert their rights, the show has taken on an even more topical tone.

Jen Shillingburg, a senior from Oakland, Maryland, has taken over directing after a trio of performances in previous years. Shillingburg said that with the issues of consent brought up during the election season, the show is more relevant than ever.

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"As the world has reflected this year, the culture needs to be reminded that women should have power; they should have strength," Shillingburg said. "We should be equals in all societies, not just our own. It's amazing how easily that message gets forgotten."

Each year, the production of the Eve Ensler classic raises money for organizations like Rape Crisis Intervention Service of Carroll County, The Family and Children's Services of Central Maryland and to Ensler's nonprofit One Billion Rising.

In order to put on the show without paying royalties, Shillingburg said, 10 percent of the proceeds are contracted to go toward One Billion Rising, that seeks to end violence against women. For the other 90 percent of money raised, she said the organizers seek out local organizations that are doing important work for women.

The show, which first premiered as Ensler's one-woman-show more than 20 years ago, features a selection of monologues written based on interviews with women from around the world. Pieces include monologues from the perspective of sex workers, Bosnian women and Ensler herself. Shillingburg said it's the diversity of content that keeps the show relevant every year.

"You can't deny that governments all over the world have a vested interest in controlling vaginas and uteruses," Shillingburg said. "No matter who has a vagina, they're welcome in the show."

Becky Carpenter, an associate professor at McDaniel, has performed in the show since its start in 2004. She said the show is continually updated to reflect new perspectives, including the comfort women of Japan from World War II to stories from trans women today.

"I learned from it at the beginning, and I continue to learn different stories as the years go on," Carpenter said. "It broadens your perspective. These are global problems and it's important to bring worldwide attention to problems of violence against women."

Carpenter said while the financial donations to nonprofits are important, raising awareness about issues of rape, intimate partner violence, sexual assault is equally as vital.

"We want people to know that these things are not acceptable, and let people know about the more prevalent signs of it so that people reach out and help people," Carpenter said. "What can you do as a bystander? What do you do if you think your roommate's boyfriend is being too controlling?"

For freshman Bailey Rose Boyle, of Chicago, this production of "The Vagina Monologues" is her first experience with the show. She said the show is valuable to broaden people's perspectives of the major issues affecting the world today.

"I would say people should be ready to laugh, be ready to cry and be ready to have your views challenged," Boyle said. "You're going to learn new things, listen to some heavy subjects, but overall have a great experience regardless of your background, political beliefs or experiences."

While the core issues brought up by the show remain the same from year to year, Carpenter said it can be something as simple as a single line from the monologues that stick with people and cause changes in their thinking. She said a colleague once told her of these changes after viewing the monologue "My Short Skirt."

"In the piece, there's a line 'My short skirt, in case you were wondering, has nothing to do with you,' and it really spoke to him," Carpenter said. "People think of course women wear cute outfits to attract male attention, but the truth is that they think they look cute in them. They're not writing a big old permission slip to yell harassing things at you. Hearing it put in exactly those words stood out to him."

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If You Go

What: "The Vagina Monologues"

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 3 and Saturday, Feb. 4

Where: WMC Alumni Hall, McDaniel College, 2 College Hill, Westminster

Cost: $5

For more information: Call 410-857-2530

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