Q&A/The Festival Sessions/Fringe World Festival/Literature/Theatre

The return of the Vagina Monologues

13 January 2021

The Vagina Monologues debuted in 1996 but in the #MeToo era, this collection of stories – based on over 200 interviews with women from around the world – feels more relevant than ever, says Sarah McNeill. She’s the producer of the 2021 Fringe World version of the work, which celebrates sexuality, genitalia, body image and, of course, the vagina.

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The Vagina Monologues, by American playwright Eve Ensler, will be presented by McNeill’s Lit Live, a storytelling initiative that she founded in 2019. As the name suggests, Lit Live sees local professional actors bring short stories and extracts from longer texts to life, marrying the energy of performance with the childhood pleasure of a bedtime story.

For those of us who have experienced Lit Live it’s easy to see why the story-based Vagina Monologues are a natural fit for the collective. Sarah McNeill, who also performs in the season, spills the beans on the upcoming Fringe season.

Seesaw: Welcome to the Fringe Sessions Sarah. Tell us about Lit Live’s Fringe World show, The Vagina Monologues
Sarah McNeill:
Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues is a seminal work that began in 1996 and became a world-wide phenomenon, sparking the international V-Day annual fundraiser for women in crisis and performances in many languages around the world.

S: What inspired you to present The Vagina Monologues in 2021?
I thought it was time to stage the show again, particularly since over the last 10 years in Australia, the sexual abuse of woman has increased by 30%. It’s time for women to reclaim their bodies!

The Vagina Monologues hasn’t been performed in Perth since 2002, when I was part of the cast that included a series of “perthonalities” including Verity James, Geraldine Mellet and Susan Maushart.

S: What makes The Vagina Monologues different to all the other shows on offer at Fringe?
So many Fringe shows these days focus on circus, magic and music. This is a piece of great theatre performed by some of Perth’s best actors.

In the last few days I’ve had a few people ask, ‘Is this a men-bashing show?’  To which I emphatically reply absolutely not!  This is a show that celebrates women, their bodies and those who love them.

S: Take us behind the scenes of The Vagina Monologues – what happens backstage?
SM: There have been a lot of discussions about vaginas, pubic hair (to wax or not to wax!) and using the word “cunt”. We all know it should be a celebratory word, not an insult.

S: No interview is complete without reflecting on 2020. How has living through a global pandemic shaped or changed the way you work?
Lit Live went online for four months – an interesting and surprisingly successful venture. It meant that my family in UK could join in!

S: What has been your pandemic silver lining?
Learning about Zoom technology and having the time to decide to stage our first main stage production. Loving the fact the audiences are so keen to go out again, and that they are discovering what talent we have right here in this state.

S: How do you think the pandemic will impact the arts long-term?
Artists will learn to engage more with audiences and audiences will hopefully continue to support the depth and breadth of talent in WA.

The Vagina Monologues plays the Studio Underground at the State Theatre Centre of WA, as part of “State of Play”, 18-20 January, and Dress Circle Bar, His Majesty’s Theatre, 27-30 January.

Pictured top is Sarah McNeill.

“The Fringe Sessions” is an annual series of Q&A interviews with artists who will be appearing at Fringe World. Stay tuned for more!

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Author —
Nina Levy

Nina Levy has worked as an arts writer and critic since 2007. She co-founded Seesaw and has been co-editing the platform since it went live in August 2017. As a freelancer she has written extensively for The West Australian and Dance Australia magazine, co-editing the latter from 2016 to 2019. Nina loves the swings because they take her closer to the sky.

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