They stood together in the dark room, their hands clasped together.
A single spotlight illuminated their silhouettes in a ray of warm, yellow light. The four women inhaled in unison to prepare for their final lines.
“We will not be silent,” the actresses shouted, their words resonating against the walls of the Arena Theater.
This time, the room was empty, but on Friday night the words of these women will reach hundreds of people at the Kenworthy Performing Arts Centre.
The annual performance of “The Vagina Monologues” returns to Moscow with two evening performances Feb. 10 and Feb. 11. Hosted by the University of Idaho Women’s Center, the monologues are part of its local V-Day campaign that takes place every February, a global activist movement to stop gender-based violence through benefit performances.
The performances will raise funds for Alternatives to Violence on the Palouse (ATVP), an organization that provides 24-hour emergency and supportive services to family and sexual violence victims, survivors and their children.
Bekah MillerMacPhee, assistant director for programs at the Women’s Center, said she knows how important this work is.
After graduating from college, MillerMacPhee joined the ATVP hotline and worked with victims of violence in the community. Before working for the Women’s Center, MillerMacPhee said she worked for the ATVP for seven years as a volunteer, an intern and a full-time employee.
“When someone needs to leave their house to escape their abuser, ATVP can pull from these funds we’ve raised to provide for them, help fill up their cars with gas to get to the shelter or give them a phone to contact the police,” MillerMacPhee said. “This isn’t just a performance to make a positive impact on the current culture, but to support people during really vital moments in their lives.”
While the monologues will contain many of the original pieces written by the author and activist Even Ensler, this performance will include two new monologues written by members of the Palouse community.
“There’s a disconnect between hearing a statistic and being able to make a personal connection to it,” said Katie Noble, a UI alumna performing in the monologues. “These are the stories of real women in our community who have dealt with terrible things, and that takes ‘The Vagina Monologues’ to a whole other level.”
Noble wrote her own monologue this year about her experience with workplace harassment. While working at a local company for a few years, Noble said she worked in a hostile work environment, where her boss constantly harassed her for her sexual orientation.
For years, Noble said she wasn’t even able to say the words aloud to her herself. She said she watched performances of the monologues for many years, and she always wished she could be brave enough to share her story. Noble said finally becoming a part of the monologues was a “big stepping stone in finding her voice.”
“I don’t have to be scared of my past,” Noble said. “I don’t have to be silent about these things. I can raise my voice and share my truth.”
Noble’s monologue will be shared alongside four other original monologues written by local women who have experienced workplace harassment. Lindsay Mammone is one of these women. She said the sisterhood she found while working on the monologues gave her a safe space to heal, and she said she hopes the audience at the Kenworthy Performing Arts Centre will feel safe too.
“We need to start the conversation,” Mammone said. “We need to stop judging and hold each other in love. We’re all just here on this Earth, trying to make it through.”
In addition to a spotlight on workplace harassment, the monologues will include another original piece that focuses on the unique challenges and struggles of transgender women.
Madeline Scyphers is a UI student studying mathematics and a transgender woman. After stepping down from a leadership position at UI’s Gender and Sexuality Alliance, Scyphers said she made time to be in “The Vagina Monologues,” something she had wanted to do for years.
Initially, she wanted to perform Eve Ensler’s “They Beat the Girl Out of My Boy … Or So They Tried,” a monologue written from the perspective of a transgender woman. After looking into the piece, Scyphers said she learned it was a inaccurate representation of her own story and the stories of other transgender women she knows.
“The original monologue was very much focused on getting a vagina to define your womanhood and saying, once you get that, everything is better,” Scyphers said. “The more and more I researched the original monologue, the more I felt like it was one written by a cis-gendered woman writing about what she thinks being trans is like.”
Scyphers said she decided she couldn’t bring herself to perform the piece. While having a conversation with MillerMacPhee and the director of the Women’s Center, Scyphers was offered the opportunity to write her own piece in replacement of the original one. Scyphers said her piece focuses on finding her own definition of womanhood.
“The whole premise of my monologue is answering the question, ‘How do you define womanhood in the absence of a vagina?’” Scyphers said. “My womanhood is not defined by a vagina, but it’s defined by experiences, my struggles and how hard I’ve had to fight for it.”
Scyphers said her story and the stories of other transgender women are important, considering transgender women have some of the highest rates of violence against them. She said she wished she didn’t have to write her own story, but she hopes she can be an inspiration to other transgender women in the audience and be a teachable insight for those who are not transgender.
“It’s a shame that ‘The Vagina Monologues’ are not trans-inclusive, and it’s a shame that I felt the need to write my own monologue so that way these stories are told,” Scyphers said. “I hope to be an underlying message of hope and standing strong.”
Tickets for the performances can be purchased in advance for $8 at the Women’s Center, Safari Pearl on 221 E. Third St. or at the door for $12. Both performances start at 7 p.m. in the Kenworthy Performing Arts Centre. After Friday’s performance, there will be a Q&A session with the cast. After Saturday’s performance, there will be an opportunity to celebrate with the cast at Bloom on 403 S. Main St.
Maiya Corral, director of “The Vagina Monologues,” said she wants the performances to be a community celebration.
“I picture warm light, people in the audience, open hearts, a lot of laughter and a lot of tears,” Corral said. “I want a community within that room and on that stage, to bring the magic, the energy, out from our rehearsals and into the theater.”
Taryn Hadfield can be reached at email@example.com