The Vagina Monologues

When the Efforts of Grace, Inc. opened the Ashé Cultural Arts Center in New Orleans in December 1998, organizers wanted to pay tribute to and celebrate people of African descent and their contributions to society. Today, Ashé is a thriving center for community organizations, galleries with historic and contemporary artworks, visual arts and live productions.

One production being staged March 20-21 is Eve Ensler’s “The Vagina Monologues,” long described as controversial, off-putting, refreshing, liberating and empowering. For Xavier University’s Dr. Kimberly Chandler, the production marks her return to the stage after 20 years in a powerful piece she says celebrates womanhood.

“The Vagina Monologues” brings together a plethora of women’s voices all around one central theme: a celebration of women’s sexuality,” Chandler said. “It is designed for everyone to celebrate it.”

Chandler is an assistant professor in the Department of Communication Studies who regularly mixes academia and live performance, including with Xavier’s Performance Studies Laboratory. The play, Chandler said, celebrates womanhood, challenges gender taboos and is a call to empowerment for women and men. The performance is one she hopes will inspire Xavier students.

“The Vagina Monologues” is at 7 p.m. on March 20 and 21 at Ashé, 1712 Oretha C. Haley Blvd., in the heart of Central City. Tickets are $20 for general admission and $10 for students and seniors. Information and tickets are available on the Ashé Facebook page at www.facebook.com/events/974745282558744, its website at www.ashecac.org, or by sending an email to Viola Johnson at violatjohnson@gmail.com. The center’s telephone number is 504.569.9070.

“The Production”

“The Vagina Monologues” is an episodic story Ensler wrote and premiered in 1996. It is composed of several different scenes that portray females’ experience with sex, love, rape, and more.The play invites criticism similar to the ridicule women have endured for centuries, Chandler said, comparing a women’s body to the play. Throughout history, women’s bodies have been used for patriarchal advances and degradation, she said. Today, however, women have become more empowered, she.

“It’s funny, serious, satirical…and inspiring,” Chandler said about the play. “For women, it will leave you walking taller with your head held higher because you’ve been in a space that honors your humanity. For everyone else, it will leave you in awe with a grand appreciation, honor and love for the gift that has been given to the universe: womanhood.”

Ashé Center’s Productions

Kesha McKey is program coordinator of the Kuumba Institute, which is the Ashé Cultural Arts Center’s Youth Program. The center is an ideal place to stage the play because one of their goals is to support activities and creative works that emphasize contributions from African Americans and people from all walks of life, she said.

The center has strengthened its dedication to art, culture, and community, while giving opportunities for the “intersections of the physical, affiliation and alliance communities,” McKey said. The center engages the community through in-house initiatives such as The Kuumba Institute, Sister’s Making a Change women’s group, and The Barbershop Collective Men’s Club.

“Students can visit Ashé to experience the many programs and events that are available for community development, education, health and well-being and artistry development,” McKey said. “They can also attend the wide range of productions and special events for simply entertainment and enjoyment.”

The Ashé center houses a repertoire of original theater works that are available for touring, and provide sponsorship for several different private, community-focused, and family oriented events, McKey said. The center has put on such works as:“The Origin of Life on Earth: An African Creation Myth,”“The 13 Lessons,”“Songs in The Key of Life,” “Story Circle”—and

“The Vagina Monologues.”

Dr. Chandler Reflects on “Vagina Controversies”

“Historically, women’s bodies have never been their own. They’ve been the political space of patriarchal desires, demands and devaluation. As an African American, my foremother’s bodies produced the enslaved workforce of this country while simultaneously being exoticized as sexual deviants. As a child, my body was used as a repository for an adult’s diabolical need to exercise power and control.

“This play—‘The Vagina Monologues’—says while these atrocities may characterize our history, it does not demonstrate our current reality.

“Women’s bodies are policed by patriarchy, sacrificed to the terrorism of sexual and physical violence, and silenced by the spiritual and psychological suicide women commit daily in order to embody the false ideals of American respectability and pseudo-propriety. THIS is the reason ‘The Vagina Monologues’ is controversial. THIS is the reason it is a victim of consternation, ridicule, and sexist marginalization.

“Even if I disagreed with its concept and content, I would dare not be so entitled that I would exercise some sort of self-contrived privilege over a woman’s right to give voice to her body, her lived experience, and her decision to celebrate her full humanity.

“Yes, the play has been called everything from smut to trash to pornography. But women’s bodies have also been given the same monikers. What ‘The Vagina Monologues’ does is say we, as women, refuse to play by rules we did not create. Our bodies will speak their truth. Our voices will be heard by those who want to listen, but most of all, by ourselves. We will celebrate who and what we are while simply enjoying every single aspect of our divine creation.

     “This production simply says: we are and will continue to be FREE!”

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