'Vagina Monologues' production in Farmington aimed at building awareness of violence, sexism issues
FARMINGTON — The organizers of a theater production focusing on female empowerment and identity that will be performed this weekend hope to raise awareness about another V word — violence, and bigotry, against women.
"The Vagina Monologues," a play in the form of theatrical narratives written by Eve Ensler, addresses topics related to the vagina: sex, love, rape, female genital mutilation, masturbation, birth, orgasm and more with humor, poignancy, intelligence and courage.
Janie Felix, a Bloomfield coven high priestess and herbalist perhaps better known for the lawsuit she filed against the city of Bloomfield for its Ten Commandments monument, is directing the production, which will deliver approximately 16 solo and group monologues.
The two dozen women in the cast represent a diversity of ages, careers and theater experience, but they have one goal in common — raising awareness of sexual violence and giving women the unbridled opportunity to speak openly about themselves, their bodies and their experience.
Karen DiGiacomo, a stay-at-home mom who two nights a week straps on roller skates and coaches the Animas Roller Girls, a local roller derby team, considers the production a family affair. She and her daughter, Annette DiGiacomo, will appear on stage, while her mother, mother-in-law, sister and another daughter plan to attend the performance, she said.
"I am a traditional housewife, and I run a four-generation household," she said. "But I don't have time to burn my bra or have three days to walk (a benefit 5K). I had a family member who was raped. You want to shake the community up and say, 'This is happening.'"
Piedra Vista High School senior and International Thespian Society member Jynger Woodward hopes people won't be turned off by the title of the production, though she's convinced a little cage-rattling in the community might just be necessary.
"Farmington doesn't understand what the show's about, and that's what's difficult to break through with people," Woodward said. "We're not trying to capitalize on vaginas for pure shock value, but trying to raise awareness is hard to do if people stay in a bubble."
Woodward said she was so frustrated by people she told about the performance who said the use of the word vagina was enough to keep them from attending or displaying a poster for the show in their storefront window that she recently went online to her Facebook account to express the importance of the show and the grave statistics that continue to make it relevant and timely.
To underscore her concern, she cited a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey last fall that reported that 19.3 percent of women and 1.7 percent of men have been raped during their lifetimes.
"In 'The Vagina Monologues,' we are trying to raise awareness to prevent this from happening," Woodward wrote in her Feb. 6 Facebook post. "Many people think the name is ugly or vulgar, but you cannot tell me that what is happening to women and men every day is any less vulgar."
Proceeds from ticket sales and an accompanying silent auction will benefit the New Beginnings domestic violence shelter and Sexual Assault Services, a Farmington rape crisis agency that offers counseling, medical forensic medical examinations, legal advocacy and other support services for victims of assault.
Eleana Butler is the director at Sexual Assault Services and said "The Vagina Monologues" may promote a little discomfort in regard to often-stigmatized subjects, but the reality behind them is too stark — especially in San Juan County — to be ignored.
"Doing provocative and edgy (productions like 'The Vagina Monologues') make people sit back and go, 'Wow,' and begin to really think," Butler said. "I am so happy that they do it."
Butler said the rates of violence, especially against women and children, is staggering and gives the performance a gravity that is heightened by the assault rates in the Four Corners, particularly in San Juan County.
"Really, it's so important because New Mexico is ninth in the nation for violence against women," she said. "In San Juan County, we have the third-highest rates in the state per capita. So we know that the problem is very prevalent. Our agency started in 2004 and has seen our numbers peak after we opened and stayed consistent since."
More than half of the cases involving sexual assault last year that Butler's agency treated involved children younger than 12 years old, she said.
"People often pay attention to the Congo or to Haiti, but people don't always pay attention that it's happening in our own community to and by people we know and love," Butler said. "There are a lot of people who get uncomfortable facing it, but that's what V-Day and the Monologues are about — to make them a little uncomfortable, make them think, make them laugh, so they'll see what they hadn't necessarily looked at before. We live it."
Engaging the community and starting genuine conversations about violence are at the top of Karen DiGiacomo's list of goals for this weekend's performances, she said.
"Being a part of this is important, showing that I am awake and I am helping," she said. "It means I am no longer a bystander. This affects everybody. But we need to face it and be able to talk about it. That would be a start."