Thursday, February 12, 2009

No penises, please!

by Franki Butler

Tonight I will perform in my third production of The Vagina Monologues at Frist Film and Performance Theater. While I have many issues with the monologues, I remain committed to the mission of the show: to highlight women’s issues that otherwise go unmentioned, and to provide aid for women in need while doing so.

Not only is The Vagina Monologues a play about women, but it also allows female performers a chance to shine. I was asked by a male acquaintance the other day why men weren’t allowed to audition for this particular production of The Vagina Monologues. When I pointed out that the monologues were written about women, to be performed by female actors, I was then asked if there were no monologues about transgendered individuals. I replied that there were, and that they were being performed by women. While I would never dream of speaking for our director and her casting decisions, I think that the rationale for this is solid, from a couple different points of view.

From a theatrical standpoint, there’s the dearth of roles for women on this campus. One of the biggest struggles Princeton’s theater community faces is casting – it produces a number of shows requiring strong male leads, but has a relatively small stable of suitable/available/willing male actors to cast. Meanwhile, women outnumber men on audition sheets at least 2:1, and are either turned down because there are so few female roles or cross-cast as men, if the production lends itself to such an interpretation. While I have no problem with cross-casting – and actually love the different dynamics it can create when done with thought and purpose – the fact remains that roles that allow female actors to explore female characters are few and far between. While the women in The Vagina Monologues certainly aren’t characters on the level of, say, Rosalind from As You Like It or Mama Rose from Gypsy, there’s value to be seen in an all-female production. That’s not to say that an all-male cast of The Vagina Monologues wouldn’t be interesting, but it would also create a different message, and that’s not the show we’re trying to do.

And then there’s the trans monologue specifically. Though I understand the inclination to believe that a transgendered woman could be played by a cisgendered man, such a belief ignores an important fact: transgendered women are women. While there would be an undeniable power in seeing someone who visually and psychologically codes as male discussing a desire for female identity, I feel that there’s also a slight insult. A strong actor could certainly carry it off, but there’s also the fact that you’re essentially putting up a guy in drag and telling him to speak about a complex relationship with a body part he neither has nor desires. It’s a valid theatrical exercise, but it lacks a certain authenticity. It puts a man in control of a uniquely female space. While the ideal casting of the monologue would have transgendered women playing transgendered women, I think that the casting of cisgendered women is an acceptable second choice.

Male allies are welcome and appreciated in the world of pro-woman activism. I’d love to see an all-male production of the monologues; I think it could do some fascinating things. This, however, is not that production. This is our space, and I think we’re justified in keeping it as such.

The Vagina Monologues are being performed tonight, Friday and Saturday at 8pm. Tickets are free with Tiger Tickets and can be purchased at the Frist box office.


At February 13, 2009 at 10:54 AM , Anonymous a_d said...

Exclusion means diversity!


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