"I smell like a bakery,” Olivia Graham (C’17) exclaims with a full mouth, shoving the tin of buttery sugar cookies across the desk with her foot.
“Have some, please! We really can’t stop,” Pearl Lo adds (C’17).
The two lounge on an orange couch, amidst a pile of coats, snacks and important looking documents. In their tiny 10 by 10 office in Platt Performing Arts, what appears to be clutter feels a lot more like organized chaos. It’s an artists’ haven, enlivened by the presence of The Vagina Monologue’s producer and director.
V–Day is one of the largest social justice movements at Penn. It serves as a force that empowers and enables individuals to speak out against violence against women. Each year, the proceeds from the production of The Vagina Monologues are donated to Women Organized Against Rape, a Philadelphia non–profit that aims to eliminate sexual violence. Besides The Vagina Monologues production, V–Day at Penn also hosts fundraising and awareness events throughout the year. “To quote a predecessor,” Olivia says, “We have Sunday meetings every week, which are the meat and potatoes of the actual chapter.”
Olivia had never acted before her freshman year. She agreed to attend a VagMons GBM with a friend, found her people and never left. As an Urban Studies major and Hispanic Studies minor, Olivia works as a research assistant with a PhD student in the management department. She also serves as the undergraduate representative on WXPN’s policy board. She hopes to use her experience in D.C. next year in her position as a project analyst at a law firm.
Pearl’s decision to join Vagmons was less impromptu. She was heavily involved in theatre and drama in high school and knew that she wanted to pursue her love of the arts at Penn. In her own words, Pearl’s ultimate goal is ”Creating beautiful art and educating people through the process.” Pearl is a Communications and Cinema Studies double major, sub–matriculating into the Graduate School of Education in the division of higher education. She will be staying a fifth year at Penn.
Pearl is also administrative assistant in Platt, as well as the Community Service Chair of PAC exec, which runs the entire performing arts council of approximately 1000 students in 46 different groups at Penn. She is the senior coordinator for PennArts pre–orientation program, the tech manager for Penn’s Glee Club, a member of Oracle Senior Society and the support chair for Osiris Senior Society. She even finds time to work with Stimulus Children’s Theatre.
Despite Olivia and Pearl’s curiously divergent Penn experiences, the two have come together as a part of the V–Day movement at Penn. They exude passion for the show, and their mission here on campus. They playfully joke and poke fun, but underneath the banter, Olivia and Pearl are remarkably in sync when it comes to supporting each other and promoting conversation around women’s rights, gender issues, and inclusivity.
When asked what the V–Day movement means to them personally, Olivia and Pearl pause. “It allows me to have a voice about something I am incredibly passionate about, and it gives a voice to a lot of people whose voices have not been heard,” Pearl shares. “V–Day is a safe but also challenging space to learn and grow. It is also a place where I feel extremely supported, and empowered when working with people I admire.”
Olivia opted to speak about what V–Day has given her. “I have always been a very extroverted person. Speaking out has never been really difficult for me. Being in this space has taught me how to listen, and learn from my peers,” she says.
Both Oivia and Pearl named previous directors Rayne Harris and Victoria Ford as huge inspirations. “I get chills when I think about them because they are both such incredibly strong, talented and amazing women,” Pearl says. “The show is 22 years old, and it’s a product of its time, but Rayne and Victoria really pushed it to be the best and most effective agent of change that it could have been,” Olivia adds, “Rayne pulled me into the cast at the very last minute my freshmen year and that really changed the course of my Penn experience.”
In terms of the legacy they hope to leave, Pearl says she “hopes that people come out of this show being glad that they did it, and I hope that they want to come back because of the people they are surrounded by and the community that they are in.”
So why should you attend The Vagina Monologues show? Both Olivia and Pearl believe the show has its shortcomings. "A lot of narratives are left out, and its not sufficiently trans–inclusive. Not all women have or want vaginas. That's a major issue, especially when we have a responsibility to not just include but to actively amplify the voices of those most marginalized," Olivia elaborates. They do, however, undoubtedly agree that its history is so rich and the themes it covers are broad.
“This show has something new to say and something new to comment on every year. Now more than ever, it’s essential that we use every mechanism we can to start discussions that need to be had and to be active participants in those discussions,” Olivia says. “Also, on certain years, they will do a spotlight feature for which Eve Ensler, the author of The Vagina Monologues, writes a new piece. This year we will have one, and you will have to come to the show to see it.”
Olivia and Pearl In Their Own Words:
Piece of advice you would give your freshman self?
Olivia Graham: Being okay with not having an answer for everything. Other than that maybe, learn to cook early and invest in your relationships.
Pearl Lo: Everything I’m doing right now I do because I love it, and I love the people in it. Know your limits, but also do what makes you happiest while finding a good balance.
Anything on your Penn Bucket List that you are determined to do before you leave?
OG: Fuck in the stacks!! I’m kidding.
PL: Done! *Laughs* I’m kidding too.
OG: I’m not an exhibitionist person to be honest.
PL: This has been on my bucket list since freshman Year: it is to have seen all 46 groups within the performing arts council by the time I graduate. I have maybe 6 more?
What would your Spirit Food be?
PL: Cheese! Cheese is so versatile. I can be fun and comforting like mac–n–cheese, but at the same time, if you go to a classy thing with faculty and alum, you need something like wine and cheese. I get paired so well with all these fancy ingredients. I’m good in all stages too! Cheese is overall the most perfect food ever to be created, and thus, I would be Cheese.
OG: There is a cheese stand at the Clark Park farmers market if you ever need any grocery recs. My spirit food would definitely be a donut. The trick is to appreciate them in all forms, cakey or otherwise.
Describe each other in three words
OG: Can it be less than three? Energizer bunny, because she is tireless and the most cheerful person I have ever met.
PL: You’re going to make me cry! Beautiful, she’s so pretty (I drunk text her about it all the time), efficient and lively. See what I did there, lively has the word Liv in it which is her name.
There are two types of people at Penn…
OG: There aren’t two types of people at Penn. There are far more that two.
PL: Someone I admire named Sophie Barron once said there are people who draft those long in–depth emails, and then there are those who never bother to read them.
How would you make your entrance on the Bachelor?
OG: Butt–ass naked.
PL: Torn between the vagina suit and a cheese costume.
Who would play you in a movie about your life?
OG: In my dreams, Robin Wright. But like House of Cards Robin Wright, not Princess Bride Robin Wright.
PL: I would play myself in a film because that was my dream as a child, that I would write, direct and star in my own memoir film. Hollywood is so whitewashed that I have a very minuscule pool of actors to choose from. If I had to choose a celebrity it would be Constance Wu because she's a badass or Beyonce because everyone wants to be her, but in this case, she would want to be me.
What would you name Beyonce's Twins?
OG: Nobody should trust me to name children. My father wanted to name me Tabitha, and there’s a chance I’ve inherited the same quirky taste. It’s too risky.
PL: Beyonce's twins should be named Earl and Pearl. Rhymes, and it's cute. Just kidding, don't do that to your kids, Bey, don't make them suffer. I know how it feels because, yes, my brother's real name is Earl.
OG: Honestly? I remember names really well.
PL: I make really good challah from scratch.