Eve Ensler’s acclaimed play opens tonight, with a cast of 10 international women who aim to make the controversial work accessible to local audiences
The cast of The Vagina Monologues.
Starting this Friday the performance company The Cambodian Monologues - a cast of 10 women from around the world - will perform Eve Ensler's groundbreaking play The Vagina Monologues at Phnom Penh's Khmer Surin performance centre.
Originally performed by Ensler as a one-woman play in 1996, The Vagina Monologues has since enjoyed success worldwide as an award-winning performance, an HBO special and a vehicle for feminist discussion.
Ensler stumbled onto the idea of writing the play after a conversation with a woman about menopause.
"She was a really smart feminist woman, and she started saying things about her vagina that really surprised me. I started thinking, ‘My God, I have no idea what women think about their vaginas, and I don't think it's what I think they think'," Ensler told the New Sun Newspaper in a 2000 interview.
Ensler then interviewed 200 women across the spectrum of race, class and sexual identity about their vaginas and compiled a number of different stories ranging from birth and orgasms to rape and menstruation.
These stories became The Vagina Monologues and have since been transformed, developed and expounded upon - slight changes have been made in the script for the upcoming performance in Phnom Penh that add local flavour.
In preparation for the play, a number of workshops were set up in order to discuss vaginas in Cambodia.
"We wanted to ... have some sort of Cambodian element," said producer Nora Lindstrom. "So we started having workshops with Cambodian women. A lot of people came, and it was really quite encouraging."
"We talked about women's position in society, we talked about sex during marriage, sex before marriage.... We talked about divorce. Women would speak up about their experiences of being abused by husbands or about simply not feeling sexually fulfilled," she said.
The workshops were a part of a larger campaign started by Ensler in the late 1990s known as V-Day.
"The V-Day movement is about ending violence against women and girls," said Lindstrom. "Only by speaking up about women's experiences, whether they be positive or negative, can we give value to women's bodies, sexuality and femininity.... Unless you can speak up about the fact that you were raped, women won't - and there will be no statistic, no knowledge and no measures to stop it. I think The Vagina Monologues help women to speak up. It shows that you're not alone and that there is a loving community there for you if you do speak up."
Theatre has often been used as a tool for communicating sensitive issues. In Cambodia there have been theatre campaigns on such topics as AIDS, family and education.
"[Theatre] is a really entertaining, non-confrontational way of legitimising the words, [the] fact that you can talk about this," said director Isabelle Skaburskis. "There's something empowering and legitimising about seeing people on stage using these words and talking about these experiences freely."
In addition to The Vagina Monologues performance, the women's singing group The Messengers will also perform before each play.
"A lot of [The Messengers'] songs have to do with women's rights, they have to do with sex workers, they have to do with garment factory workers, they have to do with land rights - they have to do with what it means to be a woman in Cambodia," said Lindstrom.
The group consists of five singers who have all worked in the garment factory industry. They sing original songs to traditional melodies about topics that affect daily life for many Cambodian women.
The Vagina Monologues will be showing Friday and Saturday at 7:30pm and again on Sunday at 2:30pm at Khmer Surin, No 9 Street 57. For more info visit www.cambodianmonologues.blogspot.com