To Be Seen, Heard, and Respected

Img 0794Starting August 17, Kata Klysmic Productions presents The Vagina Monologues at The Garden Nightclub. Performed in the round, it is a series of intimate and personal scenes relating to the female experience. While it talks about a number of issues that are often socially uncomfortable or unseen, the words and performances are powerful, important, and need to be heard and respected.

The Vagina Monologues (VM) were originally written in 1996, to reflect the various issues and thoughts of society's view on gender roles, and how many react to them. While the play has evolved through the changes in our world (for example, writer Eve Ensler wrote a piece in 2003 called Under the Burqa about the plights of women in Afghanistan under Taliban rule to add to the play), there are many subjects that have been constants, as is only right since some events and experiences have been universal. 


Respecting Truth


I talked with Emily Davis, who is directing The Vagina Monologues for Kata Klysmic, about how the show addresses this blend of change and consistency. "Every year there are new monologues added to bring light to issues in society today. Our production sticks mostly to the original piece, with a few newer monologues added in. This piece is so interesting because even though it was written 21 years ago, the themes still resonate so well in our society."


"Due to the intimate nature of this show, the cast has had very in-depth conversations about their own life experience and how they relate to the show. For example, When I Was Twelve My Mother Slapped Me is a four-person scene about women getting their period for the first time. That theme is so universal and will never change."


"Another piece, My Vagina Was My Village, is about a woman refugee during the War in Bosnia. This is from the original script and depicts a war from the 1990's but, sadly, we know that there is always a war and always suffering."


Respecting Reality


Kata Klysmic is known to be as inclusive as possible in their shows, and The Vagina Monologues is no exception. Emily discussed the search for the cast, and how that affected what she wanted to do with the show.


"We had successes and failures. We have a great range when it comes to age, race, and sexuality that bring something unique to the show. We've found that age plays into most of these stories. For example, the way periods are handled has changed significantly throughout the past 25 years alone, from plastic underwear, the stigma of tampons, and now the ever important Diva Cups."


"The one way our production has failed is the lack of trans women representation and it is very important to me to be very open about that. We were prepared to add a monologue written for the show a few years ago about a trans woman's experience growing into herself. The cast and production team has various connections with the trans community via friends and close family members, so we had discussions about how to handle the event of not having anyone to tell this story. After auditions and some searching we had no one to represent this very important and fragile subject matter, and ultimately decided it would be more respectful to cut the monologue than to have cis women telling their story for them."


"After everything that has been happening in politics to the trans community up to this point, and especially in the past few weeks, my heart breaks that I was unable to bring this important branch of the female experience to the production. Representation is so important and something the theatre community in Des Moines is starting to finally become aware of."


Respecting Bravery


Speaking openly, and truthfully, about women's issues is not something most societal groups have been historically comfortable with. So it takes some definite courage, and hopefully a supporting environment, for such stories to be told. Oddly, while the truth is all around us, its messages are often skewed thanks to that very society. Emily explains how The Vagina Monologues addresses this:


"With VM it is more of an opportunity to discuss subjects that our society is saturated with, but are still so taboo. Women's sexuality is sold everywhere in advertising, television, movies, and modeling, but when it comes to discussion about puberty or what happens during childbirth, or what happens when we lose touch with our sexuality suddenly, is so hush-hush. Why do we need to feel ashamed about experiences that happen to every single woman in some capacity?"


In many ways, it's about the environment where these stories can be told, and the women who support their telling, that makes the stories so resonant.  One of the actresses in this production of VM, Treasure Masden, has been very involved on various crew positions in the theatre scene here in Des Moines, but this production is one of the first in town where she's had an onstage role. 


"I was very nervous coming into this show," says Treasure. "I really wanted to do these stories justice. There are a few light-hearted monologues, but we also have some heavy ones, and the women are just doing a phenomenal job."


"Something that I really wanted to take away from this show, was that these are real stories women trusted Eve Ensler with. They spoke to her about what it means to be a woman. How we are treated, how we think about ourselves, even what others think of us."


"So, coming into my monologue, I tried to remember that even though I'm playing a character, she is a real woman and this is how she feels about her vagina, and she and we are not alone. We will never be alone when it comes to womanhood. So as much as I am playing her, I'm letting myself through, and in the case of my monologue I think most women can relate to this story."


Respecting Everyone


Emily agrees with this strongly, that every woman shares the experiences dramatized in these presentations, and how they are both universal and personal at the same time. "I can find hints of myself in every single one. Of course, there are some that speak louder than others."


"Because He Liked to Look At It is about finding a partner that helps you find your beauty, which relates to my wonderful husband who supports me in every aspect of my life and self-being. My Angry Vagina would be the monologue most people would relate to me. I can find myself going on passionate rants in every turn of a conversation, much like the woman in that piece. I can promise that every woman who comes to this show will see themselves somewhere in the show."


"The ultimate beauty of it all is that these shows come directly from interviews with real life people. In VM, Eve Ensler interviewed hundreds of women, and it is stated in the intros of the monologues if the particular story comes from one woman or if it is a collage of many women's stories. It is such a special thing to portray a slightly stylized version of a real-life human being and tell their stories. It's all about the heart, and not treating these characters as caricatures because, again, they are real people. Ultimately, the show is working toward representing real human experiences in a respectful and artistically pleasing way."


Emily, Treasure, and the rest of the cast and crew are hoping that audiences ultimately can share and become part of the whole experience as well. "This show will be done in the round," Emily reminds us, "which is new for a Kata Klysmic show. Audience members will be sitting all around the space, even on stage, with the cast sitting among the audience. This adds an even more intimate element to the show and really brings the audience into the conversation."


"Adding The Vagina Monologues this season is another tell of the growth of [Kata Klysmic]. We have these great shows, and now introducing new ways for the audience to be involved in the shows, as well as shows that hit on more serious issues in society."


"I've been able to see such growth in just two years. In that time, we've added Noce, Pyramid, and Kata to the theatre community. Think about how many opportunities have risen from just that? I want to keep being a part of theatre that moves and shakes and makes audiences think. I want us to keep pushing and to never settle for 'good enough'. We have a job to create quality theatre no matter where we are. Des Moines deserves and craves these shows, so let's keep working to better our city and make real changes with our art."


The Vagina Monologues will be presented at The Garden Nightclub. Shows are Thursday August 17 through Sunday August 20. Tickets are available through Midwestix and at the door. ALSO, Kata Klysmic will be holding a tampon/pad drive for all performances to continue author Eve Ensler's mission to support victims of domestic abuse. Unopened boxes of tampons and pads will be accepted at the front ticket desk before the show. All proceeds will be donated to Children and Families of Iowa. 

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The Vagina Monologues Kata Klysmic Productions Emily Davis Treasure Masden