Making A Vagina Monologue Awesome
December 6, 2008 5:24 PM   Subscribe

I'll be performing in next year's Vagina Monologues. How can I be awesome?

Some friends from a nearby university are organising next year's V-Day and I've volunteered to help. I'll be performing "The Woman Who Loved To Make Vaginas Happy" (the story with the sex worker and the moans) - this story was suggested to me by my friends as they said I was "loud and energetic" enough to pull it off. Great! Now what?

I don't have a lot of acting experience - just a short skit here and there for school. I've done public speaking, choir, and poetry (recitals/slams) before, as well as other performance styles - but I'm just an amateur dabbler. I want to make the performance awesome - to capture the spirit of the story and entertain the audience.

Rehearsals are starting soon. What can I do to prepare? How do I effectively memorise the monologue without coming off stiff? (I've got a long list of moans to do.) Also, is it OK to adlib in TVM? Since we're performing it in Australia, I'm not sure if some of the Americanisms will translate well, and I'd feel more natural if I was able to add a spontaneous quip here and there.

Has anyone done this monologue (or one very similar) and found the material challenging? I liked the story but I'm worried that when I try to perform it I'll get a sudden case of nerves or some latent prejudice about sex workers will come up out of nowhere. This monologue requires quite a lot of confidence and slack inhibitions - how do I pull that off?

What else should I know about monologue work, stage work, or The Vagina Monologues in general? Actors, performers, directors - what are your tips for me?

(also, side question: who's generally responsible for the costuming with TVM? The actor or the crew?)
posted by divabat to Media & Arts (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

Get used to the idea of quoting it in front of strangers by practicing in front of friends first. Widen the circle of friends you practice in front of, if possible. Ask for feedback, from friends, the director, anyone who saw you. Specifically for that character: when you're at home, goof off with faking orgasms all the time. As many types as you can come up with. Remember you are doing this to bring an interesting message, but ultimately have a good time doing it as well.

If you need encouragement, watch Ian McKellen discuss acting.
posted by piratebowling at 5:44 PM on December 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

It sounds like some of your questions are specific to the production (e.g., who's responsible for costuming?). Ask a contact or organizer.

More generally, in my (limited) experience with TVM, the show is likely to be a love-fest. The audience will come in wanting to be caught up in the performance, feel some affirmation, possibly shout, and with a general "you go girl" attitude. You should feel like they are cheering you on, as they probably will with just a little help from you.
posted by grobstein at 5:49 PM on December 6, 2008

Response by poster: piratebowling: Ha! As soon as I got the confirmation (and watched a few recordings on YT) I got my boyfriend to watch it too, and then pretended to orgasm. He looked at me odd and said " I'll never know if you're for real!"

grobstein: I will ask them when I get the chance, but it seems that there may be an overall TVM culture that comes with the experience and I'd like to hear from others that have done the same.

Additional question: Which performances of that piece would you recommend I watch for inspiration?
posted by divabat at 5:53 PM on December 6, 2008

"I'll be performing 'The Woman Who Loved To Make Vaginas Happy' (the story with the sex worker and the moans)"

Hang out with some real sex workers, to get a feel for how they act -- and they do act.
posted by orthogonality at 6:05 PM on December 6, 2008

When we organized it, the woman who did this monologue had props with her - I think a whip maybe.
posted by at 6:32 PM on December 6, 2008

This monologue requires quite a lot of confidence and slack inhibitions - how do I pull that off?

Practice. Which will help you with the memorization too. Practice doing the monologue in front of people, first the people you're most comfortable with and then people you're less comfortable with and then groups of people (or something along those lines). Once you know--have experienced--that you can do the monologue with an audience, and do it well, then you'll be confident.
posted by overglow at 6:54 PM on December 6, 2008

Best answer: I did the My Angry Vagina one, one year, which was tough but appropriate for me, dressed like a teenage streetwalker and sort of maniacal. I did a smattering of stuff another year, and, well, very clearly recall what made the moaner piece awesome. I wanted to do that one, of course, but I DID NOT HAVE THE CHOPS compared to Ariela, who was later Carmen in the university opera, and who I AM JUST REALIZING I watched last week completely nailing Pirate Jenny on You Tube. Didn't recognize her. Neat!

You need to practice, and not too often in front of people, or the mirror. What are you doing? You're not giving a speech. It's not an interview or an anecdote. It's an art lecture.

To do this piece justice, embody it, and treat it like a vagina.

Be firm. Sure of yourself. Go slow. Don't rush. Take your time. Practice with a timer, not a recorder. You want to resonate, deep. Don't be all light and dancy, get to the meat. Not bubbly, not sweet. This is not the clitoris we're talking about, it's the heart of sexual pleasure, the weighty, warm guts of the thing.

She wore a very sharp suit and heels. She had dramatic, sophisticated makeup. I liked this take. She talked like a virtuoso dyke but without any particular masculinity or femininity in her voice. Just sexuality. A stockpile of weaponized sexuality equal to five United States Defense Departments.

I personally think the piece should always be the finale and should never rely on props. Except, you can have a cigarette when you're done.

I can imagine accentuating the speech with some talking-with-your-hands, and those gestures being faintly, but not explicity, fisting. I don't know if you're an experienced fister or fistee, but for the general benefit, I will remark that fisting isn't punching. It's more like... if you wanted to beckon the orchestral music out of a small pumpkin. Ever cleaned out a pumpkin? Ever conducted an orchestra? Ever done both at once while giving orgasmic pleasure?

You're going to want to clip your nails, right away.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 7:07 PM on December 6, 2008 [7 favorites]

odinsdream, It's from extras. What kills me is him wiping the tear away at the end.
posted by piratebowling at 7:30 PM on December 6, 2008

Best answer: Acting is becoming the person you're playing.

You need to work at becoming a sex worker for the duration of the role. Please don't worry about or lean on things like props or sexual hand gestures. This is what is known as "presentational" acting, and it reads as phony from miles away. it's not that you can never use them, but that's unequivocally the wrong way to build a performance.

When you inhabit the role and become the character, you will find yourself naturally doing things- not to get a reaction, not because you rehearsed them- but because that is what you, the character, decide to do in the moment.

You said rehearsals start "soon?" I don't know if you have time, but the best thing to do if you really want to nail it would be to take an acting or improv class. Failing that, work with the director as much as you can. She is there to help you give a great performance. You could also maybe seek out a more experienced actor who has done this piece before, or at least been in TVM.
posted by drjimmy11 at 9:17 PM on December 6, 2008

have a drink before the performance. just one to loosen you up.
posted by KateHasQuestions at 9:35 PM on December 6, 2008

BIG TIP......Don't look shocked when someone in the audience says "cunt". When I went to see it a few years ago.... at some stage in the beginning we, the audience, were asked to say "cunt" by one of the actresses. So I did. Loudly and proudly. Oops.

Apparently we were all supposed to be timid and ashamed and not able to say it till we'd been more warmed up by the monlogues... I was sitting in almost the front row... it was sort of "theatre in the round" so the actress asking got a very surprised look on her face. THEN I was embarrassed. (The whole audience laughed though, I have to say.... I didn't mean to undermine/upstage the artistic's just not a word that I think should be whispered.)
posted by taff at 9:35 PM on December 6, 2008

Response by poster: orthogonality: I was actually thinking of doing that. I happen to have a friend who's a sex worker (stripper). Hmm...

Ambrosia: Ooh. Wow. That's powerful. Stockpiles of sexuality, slow, deep - I'll have to work on that (I tend to rush and chirp away). Thank you, that's the sort of thing I'm after.

drjimmy11: I've done improv, good fun! I'll see if there's a short acting class available. I'll definitely work with the director, see how we can fit in with the larger TVM mission.

KateHasQuestions: Ha, I don't drink alcohol! Might have some damiana beforehand though, it's meant to be an aphrodisiac...

taff: hahahahahaha...ah well, at least you had spirit. I would have done the same too XD
posted by divabat at 10:18 PM on December 6, 2008

Hey, I did that monologue!
The one piece of advice I'll give is: make each moan yours! Don't sell any of them short, play with them on your own and 'discover' them, make each one specific and have each one tell a story about the moaner. And give 'er BIG! (I did it in university, and worked on the monologue in my dorm room--everyone thought I was getting a LOT more action than I really was!)
Own it, love it. And let the rest of the monologue, about how she "discovered" her moan ring true as well. Remember that Eve Ensler took these stories from real women--this is someone's story, it has a truth to it, and is an honest recounting of how she became who she is! Sometimes it gets sent up, which I think undermines the whole thing, not to mention ruining the surprise of all the fun moaning at the end!

It's yours, have fun!
posted by stray at 12:03 AM on December 7, 2008

...if you wanted to beckon the orchestral music out of a small pumpkin.

Fabulous. I don't know about that piece per se, but with advice like this, you cannot go wrong.
posted by ottereroticist at 1:05 AM on December 7, 2008

Response by poster: We did it! We just did our two-day run and it was awesome. People loved my bit too!

The directors and I played this more like a vagina geek who loves her job - I tried to be sexier but they felt that it was just overdoing it. So more a bubbly vagina me in real life. She goes on and on about how she loves props, and I needed something with a red accent - the long tickler was perfect. It's my first big acting role, so I was stoked and scared, but I LOVE it.

Here's me performing it. Possibly NSFW for all the moaning. Enjoy!
posted by divabat at 10:23 PM on February 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 3:42 AM on February 7, 2009

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