VOX prepares ‘Nostras Voces’ to replace ‘The Vagina Monologues’

By Erica Garnett

VOX UMass: Students for Reproductive Justice Facebook Page

February 2016 has come and gone on the University of Massachusetts campus. The winter month featured a dearth not only of New England-grade snowfall but also of the popular production “The Vagina Monologues.” The show was not performed this year, due to popular demand. Instead, a new production “Nostras Voces,” will debut in late March 2016.

Feedback from the UMass community showed that some students felt antagonized and misrepresented by “The Vagina Monologues.” The show was triggering to some students and was an endangerment to people’s identities, mainly students of color and students in the LGBTQ community.

The central motivation behind foregoing “The Vagina Monologues” was to do right by the UMass community. “Nostras Voces” will take a more holistic approach, surrounding all people’s experiences regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation and other defining identities. The idea for a new production was conceived by the senior board members of VOX UMass: Students for Reproductive Justice. One of the board members, Haley Hewson, will be directing and producing “Nostras Voces”.

“Why would we continue to do something that was going to hurt people? ‘The Vagina Monologues’ has simply gone on for too long, getting away with the injustice it was doing,” Hewson said.

Hewson served as assistant director and producer of “The Vagina Monologues” in 2015. She was very receptive to the feedback the show received in recent years and felt direct action needed to be taken after last year’s show. Hewson first acted in “The Vagina Monologues” in 2014, the same year she joined VOX.

VOX is an organization dedicated to educating and expanding conversation around reproductive rights. VOX has been on the UMass campus since 2003 and collaboratively produced “The Vagina Monologues” with the Center for Women and Community for the past several years. The group has chapters at Smith College as well as Mount Holyoke College.

In 2015, Mount Holyoke eradicated “The Vagina Monologues.” The school’s Project Theatre Board dubbed the content as “inherently reductionist” and not inclusive enough. UMass Amherst will be following in the footsteps of its consortium colleague.

“The Vagina Monologues,” created by Eve Ensler, first debuted in 1996 and has been performed in over 140 counties, in 48 languages. The production focuses on raising awareness about violence against women and looks to celebrate women’s sexuality in a society that commonly oppresses it.

While the play was curated in good intention, its lack of representation of all women – since it’s told mostly from the perspective of a cisgender, white, straight woman – has been an elephant in the room at past UMass performances. The exclusive discourse of “The Vagina Monologues” has in turn overshadowed the show’s prevailing attempts at feminism and left its execution as repetitive rhetoric. Twenty years later, in 2016, Ensler’s show proves to be outdated.

“Nostras Voces” is the beginning of new changes to come at VOX. “Nostras Voces” means “our voices” in Latin, which coincides with the meaning of VOX, which comes from the Latin phrase “vox populi,” meaning, “voice of the people.” However, VOX is currently brainstorming a new name for their organization. The group is also in the process of revisiting their constitution because they wish to continue their partnership with Planned Parenthood while still being able to support their candidate of choice in the November 2016 presidential election.

VOX is democratically run and ensures that all members’ inputs are validated and heard. The reconstruction and renaming of the group coincides with its abandonment of “The Vagina Monologues.”

For some students, this kind of show is their first introduction to social justice, specifically in the context of violence against women and girls. While “The Vagina Monologues” presented audience members with a narrowed perspective, “Nostras Voces” aims to shift that paradigm to be more representative of the student body and society in general.

The only part of “The Vagina Monologues” that will be performed in “Nostras Voces” is the skit titled “My Short Skirt.” With this exception, every piece in “Nostras Voces” has been written by a UMass student, albeit the person performing each piece may not align with the author. Hewson was mindful of the campus feedback while overseeing the script and the curation of student’s pieces. “Nostras Voces” has a cast of approximately 20 members.

There will be original music and select pieces delivered through styles of spoken word and slam poetry. Most performances in “Nostras Voces” will follow traditional monologue format. The content of the show will transcend the topic of women’s sexuality to also cover issues of classism, racism and the intersectional relationship between these topics.  

“At the end of the day this show is about your identity and how that identity has shaped your life, or stories from your life that have shaped your identities,” said Hewson.

As a white cisgender woman, Hewson feels she has a responsibility to do right by her community and views “Nostras Voces” as one way she can contribute to that. Drawing from self-awareness, knowledge of social justice, language that surrounds this type of performance and insight into the community, Hewson aims to provide a space for others to share their experiences in “Nostras Voces.”

“Nostras Voces” will be performed on Thursday, March 24th and Friday, March 25th at 7:30 p.m. in Bowker Auditorium. VOX will be collecting material donations to be given to Amherst Survival Center and Safe Passage in Northampton. Feminine hygiene products and socks are encouraged. Those who bring items to donate will have their names placed into a raffle for a chance to win gift cards to local Amherst businesses.

Tickets will be on sale at the Bowker box office, which will open a half hour before the show. Admission is $5 for Five College students, UMass staff, senior citizens and military and $10 for the general public. For more information, visit the VOX Facebook page.

Erica Garnett can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @GarnettErica.