V DayRosie Lalevich, Julia Zemiro and  Vivienne Vidulich at the performance The Vagina Monologues, NIDA June 29

Men have always been slow to respond to the call of women for a better deal in the intimacy of the bedroom, in the rest of the home, within day-to-day relationships, at work, and the broader world at large.

That does NOT explain why I have been so slow in getting my response to you of my first Vagina Monologues experience. Rather the male factor of my laptop swallowed the piece in a guilt-reaction, and the feminine side of the machine has had to use all her wiles, and call for fair play, for this modest tribute to be released from what it pretended to be a ‘crash’ mode

It was only after I started patting my laptop and calling on the goddess Elsie - the name of the first women’s refuge which opened in Sydney in the early 1970s - did the machine miraculously decide to turn itself back on and give up this story so I could send it on to australianstage for publication.

Do all good. Here is what I wrote more than a week ago.

Every now and again you walk into a show with little expectation and come away at the end totally bowled over. This happened last Sunday (29 June) when I was invited to a single ‘fundraiser’ performance of Eve Ensler’s provocatively titled, The Vagina Monologues. The location was lovely big theatre at NIDA, packed to the rafters.

This startling work for the stage premiered in 1996 at the HERE Arts Center in New York before moving to the off-Broadway Westside Theatre. Writer/performer Ensler originally performed all the monologues alone; it then went to an extended season with the material shared by three actresses.

While similar seasons of the work have been produced all over the world, it has since 2001 often been connected to one-off ‘benefit’ events, under the banner of ‘V-Day’, a charity aimed to raise money to benefit female victims of violence and sexual abuse. On these occasions, up to a dozen female performers might get involved. Sometimes more, as was the case in Sydney this year.

2008’s most significant American version was held in the New Orleans Superdome where, only a few years back, many of the same women took refuge in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Not only did big stars partake in the performance, but many forms of support were on offer from advocacy and camaraderie to counselling.

The producer of the recent Sydney rendition, Rosie Lalevich, who has met Ensler and, not surprisingly, ‘have a warm association', did an incredible job getting this special home-town event together. There were many setbacks I gather. But so too did solidarity kick in, as many of Australia’s finest female acting talents step forward to play their part. And oh so well!

On stage for this event were: Julia Zemiro, Fenella Kernebone, Amanda Keller, Helen O’Connor, Maggie Blinco, Noni Hazlehurst, Vivienne Garrett, Lyn Collingwood, Jacki Weaver, Dina Panozzo, Sandy Greenwood, Pamela Jikiemi, Wendy Strehlow, Annie Byron, Odile Leclezio, Jeannie Lewis, Alice Livingstone, Jessica Tovey, Rainee Skinner, Pamela Rabe, Rosie Lalevich and – in the wake of a matinee of Billy Eliott – Genevieve Lemon, a late arrival with a rousing rendition of the Vagina Blues.

Missing from the occasion was journalist Fran Kelly who was hoping to participate but had been whisked away for a secret assignment in Washington!
The bulk of the  funds raised this 10th anniversary V-Day have gone to NSW Women’s Refuge Support Movement (WRM) to help resource its newly established Women’s Family Law Support Service (WFLSS).
{xtypo_quote_right}I’d been under the false impression that something ‘worthy’ drove the success of the Vagina Monologues. And worthy as the material is, it is the creativity of the writing that better explains the work’s success.{/xtypo_quote_right}
Three aspects of the event struck me as impressive. One was the quality of Ensler’s writing. While new monologues are added almost annually to take up new aspects of the struggle for women’s rights, all the pieces are incredibly inventive - ranging from wickedly hilarious to heart-wrenching. I’d been under the false impression that something ‘worthy’ drove the success of the Vagina Monologues. And worthy as the material is, it is the creativity of the writing that better explains the work’s success. Yes, the project was born of hundreds of interviews with women from many walks of life. But the extent to which Ensler sculpts this material into art is quite astounding.

Second, was the line up of talent on stage on this occasion: so many of my favourite actresses in full flight, each performance egging on the next. It was a banquet of fearless virtuosity, covering a vast range of emotions and ideas.

Thirdly was the solidarity. Not just onstage, but among all those who were there. And even us blokes, modest in number, were made to feel welcome. At the dinner after, I got to sit just a seat away from Anne Summers who was involved in setting up Elsie that first women’s refuge in Glebe more than thirty years ago now. How pleasing it is, witness as I am to this city’s ever-evolving story, to know how far the refuge movement has come.

That there is ever more need for safe-harbour is an indictment on our society as a whole; but that there are so many involved in helping women in crisis these days is testimony to value of those early endeavours by Summers and others, back in the 1970s; and those who have been involved in the work ever since.

Again to list some deserving names. Patrons of Sydney V-Day 2008 include Eva Cox, Margaret Cuneen SC, Verity Firth MP, Pru Goward MP, Dr Lesley Laing, Wendy McCarthy, Emily McGuire and Jillian Skinner MP, as well as Summers. All have played their part in improving the lot of women in this still mostly misogynistic world.

Attached are some interesting links including V-Day’s official site which covers this year’s huge event in New Orleans, as well as offering a history of this now ten-year project; and a lovely report of Jane Fonda getting caught out using the ‘c’ word on USA prime time when discussing her part in the V Monologues.

There is also a link to the philanthropy organisation, Greenstone Group, which sponsored this year’s Sydney V-Day.





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