Every year, a group of strong people who feel connected to the issues facing women come together for the nation’s largest and oldest continuous university production of the Vagina Monologues. Coming into the 2017 production of the show, the board aimed make it as inclusive as possible for all individuals. The cast included students from across the spectrum of sexuality and gender, opening up the dialogue about female issues to those who consider themselves a part of the community.
A behind-the-scenes look at the process leading up to the performances brings us to the lovely wonderful Pearl Lo. Besides directing this year’s show, Pearl is active on campus as part of the Glee Club, Performing Arts Council, PennArts Pre-Orientation Program, Stimulus Children’s Theatre, After School Arts at Penn, and the Support Chair for Osiris Senior Society. Pearl is active on campus as part of the Glee Club, Platt Performing Arts House, and . Pearl has been part of the Vagina Monologues since her Freshman year at Penn. “Coming to Penn,” she explained, “I had wanted to find a medium that allowed me to combine my passion for feminism and love for the performing arts, when I came across the Vagina Monologues.” The previous three years she has been a member of the cast, an experience she describes as rewarding and low-time-commitment. “When you’re a part of the cast,” she says, “you are responsible to attend only a few rehearsals a semester, each of which are an hour.”
As director, the experience was quite different for Pearl. In charge of scheduling around fifty talented and busy people, she attended twenty hours of rehearsal a week, plus many meetings. Looking back with pride at those months of preparation, Pearl recognizes that one of the most challenging aspects of the show this year was the intense time commitment. However, as director she was able to meet everyone involved in the movement, an incredible opportunity she did not have prior to taking on this role. Pearl adds that as director her mission was to make the production a more inclusive space for queer individuals, women of color, trans individuals, and others. “I wanted all individuals to feel comfortable engaging in an open dialogue and contributing to a show which would be meaningful for all of them,” Pearl says.
Pearl has an interesting perspective about her experiences on the stage as well. Last year she was cast in the most provocative and explicit monologue, which members of V-Day refer to as “the moaner.” Amidst a difficult Junior year, in which Pearl did not feel her most confident and happy self, she made the deliberate decision to take a role in which she would appear on stage in revealing clothing and perform orgasmic noises for hundreds of audience members. She attributes her decision to accept the role to her understanding of the bigger picture. “I saw this as an opportunity for anyone who is Asian- American, anyone who has a fuller figure. I saw this as an opportunity to be representative of a subset of individuals who are not always represented in this positive, empowering light.” Though performing the role had its challenges, Pearl emphasizes the way in which the V-Day community made her feel safe and supported at times when she felt vulnerable.
While the Penn community will miss Pearl once she graduates, she will be leaving an incredible mark on the Vagina Monologues and the V-Day community at large. For those who enjoyed the show and would appreciate a closer examination of the process leading up to it, don’t hesitate to get involved next year! Pearl and many others have expressed that the show is not only rewarding, but a space on campus in which individuals can feel safe, respected, and liberated.
Image courtesy of Johanna Matt