These are the women that cry vagina. You may have heard them; Raya Jalabi, former Street Managing Editor and current Vagina Monologues producer, and Maya Tepler, the show’s director, are two of the top vag–abonds. They spoke to Street about Volvos, vibrators, V–Day and, coincidentally, penises.
Street: How do you think that the concept of The Vagina Monologues contributes to raising awareness about women’s issues? Maya Tepler: By boxing in the issues of The Vagina Monologues as women’s issues, you’re missing the point of the show. The “women’s issues” brought to light in the monologues affect everyone, affect the world. We don’t feel empathy for the stories of the women portrayed in the show because they are women, but because they are human beings. This is the point of the show: women’s issues need to become the world’s issues. Raya Jalabi: I’d like to think that The Vagina Monologues is more than just a “concept,” addressing “women’s issues.” It’s a performance in celebration of women, their triumphs, their occasional failings, but most importantly, their stories. But the performance would be null if not accompanied by the V-Day campaign itself, with its emphasis on ending violence against women.
Street: How does directing this performance differ from directing a traditional play? MT: It’s not so much about elliciting oscar–worthy performances as it is getting the cast members to speak honestly, candidly, through the monologues – letting their own knowledge and experiences inform the characters and situations that may be otherwise completely alien to them. Through these performances we see the universality and immediacy of the issues brought forth in the monologues. RJ: And we get to say vagina on stage 73 times. Which is simply delightful.
Street: A show with the word “vagina” in the title could be a hard sell to guys. Why should they see it? MT: We need to turn The Vagina Monologues into the Vagina Dialogues. I think many of the guys at Penn don’t realize that sexual assault is not a rarity on this campus. We can’t end violence against women at Penn, and all over the world, without the men of our community acknowledging the severity of the situation. And if that doesn’t convince you, then I encourage you to come for the hilarious performances of 50 diverse, sexy and empowered Penn women. RJ: The Vagina Monologues isn’t a show dedicated to man–hating and talks of collective castration. It’s funny, it’s smart and it seeks to celebrate the extraordinary in the ordinary. There’s really nothing to be afraid of lads… except for vagina dentata. That shit’s weird.
Street: What would your vagina say if it could talk? RJ: Something constipated and impossibly British. MT: “Stop being optimistic. Get a vibrator.”
Street: Why does a campus like Penn’s need a V–Day movement? MT: No matter how much the boys on this campus generalize “Stupid Penn girls,” and the girls lament “Idiotic Penn guys,” many of us will leave this campus and become incredibly powerful in our respective fields *fingers crossed*. If we want to change the world for the better, we have to change the way we see and treat women right here on this campus. Tangible worldwide change can start right here, at Smoke’s, in Huntsman, even under the button. RJ: Because life isn’t perennially peppered with pixie dust and rainbows. Because violence against women is real. Because it’s tangible and it’s right here on this campus, whether students choose to see it or not. Because until the violence stops, there is a need for a V–Day movement in every community.
Street: How has The Vagina Monologues changed since your time at Penn? MT: Back when I was a freshman issues of sexuality actually pertained to my life. RJ: Well, it used to be run by cool ladies that I totally looked up to. And now, well, there’s me.
Street: What is the biggest issue women at Penn deal with? RJ: Just the usual stuff, you know: maintaining impeccable grades, balancing on the edge of the bathtub at the perfect angle to ensure optimum leg–shaving capacities, finally getting through Ulysses; learning how to tastefully grind at Smoke’s, making friends with the bouncers at Smoke’s (hey Drew!) and trying to accurately predict appropriate response time for romantically inclined textuals… MT: …all while keeping house and ensuring that dinner is on the table by 6:30 p.m., sharp.
MT: I live for the lone wolves who try desperately to ignore the screams of “vagina,” but can’t help cracking a smile and buying a baked good when we pull out the big guns, such as “IT'S COLD OUTSIDE BUT IT'S WARM IN VAGINAS.” RJ: Last week, some guy offered to buy a silly band if we told him what Locust Walk’s security configuration was and how he could successfully pull off a socialist–inspired workers’ revolt right here on campus. He wore good shoes.
Street: What would the Penn Penis Monologues be like? MT: It would include a selection of monologues entitled: Overcompensating: A Frat Boy Odyssey. Penis: It’s Good To Have One At Penn, As Long As You’re Looking For Others. Vagina: I’ve Never Seen One Sober, And I’m Terrified. The Best Handjob Ever: A Blowjob. Marriage: Let’s Live in Jerz, Make Beautiful Babies And Send Them to Camp. RJ: Um… Monosyllabic grunting noises interspersed with pseudo–intellectual banter?
Street: My PennCard photo looks like I’m… MT: Peeping out of the backseat of my 1988 Volvo stationwagon, the pride and joy of my high school career in rural Maine. RJ: On crack.
Street: If you were a Penn professor, what class would you teach? RJ: From Mandy to Copacabana: A historical exploration of Barry Manilow and his struggle for mainstream respectability. MT: (Aya)^2: A Statistical Exploration of a Jew (doctor?) from Maine and an Arab (terrorist?) from London.
Street: There are two types of people at Penn… RJ: Those who preface every classroom statement with: “just to reiterate what was just said”… and those who occasionally have original thoughts. MT: Those who fear Vaginas, and those who revere Vaginas.
Street: What would people be surprised to know about you? MT: I have a militant environmentalist streak underneath my Tridelt sparkle. I haven’t had bottled water for six years, I compost my coffee grounds and I’m a devout follower of “If it's yellow, let it mellow.” And I hate cuddling. RJ: That I do a mean Iraqi folk dance when prodded. That, and three years of failed auditions later, I’m still trying to get a part in The Vagina Monologues.