I saw the Olin/Babson production of the Vagina Monologues tonight. It was fascinating. It was powerful. It was women I had seen a hundred times, seen now in character being something so different. But not different, just more. Impressive. Striking. Undeniable. This is one of the reasons I find theater so powerful- you look upon a person on stage and see everything. Not only are you free to look, but you observe everything - minute movements, airs, intonations, glances that you might never watch day to day. Certainly these minutiae of expression exist in every day life, but in a performance there is a mutual acknowledgement of their presence, their meaning, that gives the slightest subtlety immense influence on the mood of the observer.
The cast was 6 parts Olin to 2 parts Babson. Proceeds benefitted local resources for women. From an actor's perspective, I was very interested in the process of preparing the show. A couple cast members talked about the process as the most fascinating part, a real learning experience in and of itself. I also find it fascinating that this was a single performance. Its understood that this is the paradigm for the Vagina Monologues- a single performance to carry all the energy and meaning and earnest implorement that this piece of art presents.
As an audience member, it was incredible to look at my classmates again in such a new way. The Vagina Monologues shatters assumptions, taboos of language and political correctness. I watched teammates, classmates, friends, and strangers shatter old definitions of language, expose ideas and unleash common feelings that are for so many women deeply concealed. I was enthralled. I was challenged. I was uncomfortable. I was completely drawn into the sensuality, the intensity of what these women were expressing on the stage. The audience tended to clap after each monologue- but I found myself repeatedly too dumbfounded to think it right. I sat, motionless, not wanting to move, not to breathe, not to break the air-thick palpable substance of what had just been portrayed. Let me here proclaim to the actresses and any other readers that I regret not jumping to my feet at the end of the performance, but it was all I could do to clap. The rest of the audience got up and left, some of them asking me if I was tired (yes) or troubled (no) or thinking (this most of all). More than anything I stayed sitting just to let the experience happen, to feel it, soak me with it and be changed by it.
This idea is a big part of the last 18 months of my life- allowing myself to be changed. So much of my time here has been spent challenging however I thought or felt or assumed about life before. Olin has exposed me to people and ideas that have irrevocably altered the way I think. I start to see problems in concrete and logical terms. I start to analyze with a deft and fluid logic not tied to any one set of rules or assumptions. But most of all, I am challenged to be open.
This idea of 'open' is worth much more development than I'll likely be able to do here. The VM's are a prime example of building openness. Whatever I felt about sexuality or women or women's ideas about themselves and their bodies, I was suddenly presented with something very powerfully different. They were communicated in a new and jarring way - and their ideas became the basis (even in the last few hours) for enlightening reflection and discussion. By being open to their full impact and emotion and depth, I walk away with a priceless glimpse of new insight and understanding.
Being an R2 does the same thing for me over and over. I have to approach people openly, allow them to use me as a resource without overpowering them with my ideas. An R2 spends (or should spend) most of their time listening- and truly listening: Afllowing people the space to feel safe, to be themselves, demands the same attitude of openness. As an R2, the end is to empower, advise, or support your fellows.
I'll reel in this reflection by returning to praise for the actresses, Olin and Babson alike, and everyone involved in tonight's production. Thanks for pulling me in. Thanks for being real, being fascinating, being daring. I was blown away by actresses I had never imagined being on stage. I walk away deep in thought about the experience of women and relationships among people at Olin and everywhere. And I walk away in quivering anticipation of my own upcoming performance. When the Importance of Being Earnest goes up next weekend (with an audience I hope will include many of this blog's readers), I will strive in comedy for the compelling performance seen in drama this evening.
We're all just people. Here at Olin, in the places of power, in the corporate boardroom, in front of the movie camera, on that stage at Babson tonight. We see people all the time, and they stop being people after a while. Sometimes they're just scenery. Look again. Look again at people. Look at them, be open, and see people. Let them challenge you, push you. We've all got lots of ideas and knowledge and beleifs. Think again. Think again about what you know to be true, think about the new truths presented in the classroom and more importantly out of it. Think always.