It’s 6:05 p.m., less than an hour before we are set to open our final night. I stand in line outside the box office. Four other actors crowd around me, waiting for the wooden shutters to roll up. We have heard that there are only ten tickets left to the last show, and our friends have promised to come. I give up as we approach our call-time, and I run down to apply my stage makeup. As I walk into the changing room, I warn the other women that everything they say is on the record. Beth Wang ’18, laughs, “There will be a thousand weird things said.” This is true; behind the scenes of the monologues, empowered by the stories we tell each night, there are no inhibitions. Mostly, we talk vagina, and vagina derivative. Evie Elson ’19 provides some evidence: “you should’ve been there – we were just debating whether this girl’s butt was real,” she says as she pulls up an Insta of a girl with an enviable backside. Beth remarks on the impossibility of the ass itself. This is the second time in two days that I have had a conversation akin to this one; yesterday, the question of whether the ass is real was asked of Kim Kardashian. To anticipate those aching for an answer, I will only say that I am impartial on the subject, but that I wouldn’t underestimate the possibilities of the human form.
In the changing room, we blast music and dance as we weave around each other looking for missing bobby pins and communal eye shadow and silky red lipstick. Just one rule: female voices only. When songs sung by men shuffle on, we ruthlessly skip through them. We sing along to Beyoncé and Alicia Keys in between rehearsing our lines. When It’s Raining Men comes on, Nicole Acheampong ’17 (who directed and acted in the show) gasps at “I’m gonna go out to run and get absolutely soaking wet.”
“That line just revealed itself to me!”
Romie Desrogène ’17 (who also directed and acted in the show) hands me a fortune cookie, and I take a break from disguising my Firestone-furnished dark circles to read, “judge not according to appearance.” That halts me for a second as I ponder the six layers of foundation that cover my skin, but I’m distracted from my pseudo-philosophical musings by the sound of Haonan Du ’17 teaching the others how she contours her boobs.
Haonan plays the part of a dominatrix in a monologue entitled “The Woman Who Loved to Make Vaginas Happy,” and drawing attention to her breasts is only par for the course. For a while, we practice the different types of orgasmic moans mentioned in the monologue: the doggy moan, the WASP moan, the clit moan, the vaginal moan… A woman asks, “Have any of you actually ever had a vaginal orgasm?” I look around. Someone volunteers, “Only when I’m on top.”
“On top? I can only come from behind.”
“Noted,” I laugh.
One of the women is concerned she brought the wrong bra and contemplates going on-stage braless, a decision that is greeted with loud cheers throughout the room. Haonan has extra nipple pasties and offers them up. Olivia Wicki ’18 counters, “a little bit of nip never hurt anybody.” Romie recommends the pasties: “if you can make a nip slip look intentional, I’ll give you an Oscar.”
From the changing room, I can hear that this is our loudest audience yet, and for the first time, I feel nervous. I brush my hair until it becomes static-y, and think that maybe I should tie it up so that I don’t hide behind it, but if I change something now I worry I will psych myself out. People are on their phones, speaking in whispers. The music’s turned off. Aside from the voices above us, the room is quiet, tense, unless I’m projecting. The stress of the room gets to me, and my hands start to shake as I type notes on my phone. When I look in the mirror, all I see are mascara crumbs on my eyelids and streaks of bronzer on my temples. I can’t recognize myself.
A few days ago, when I told a friend I was acting in the monologues, she commented that she was surprised because she thought I struggled to speak openly about sex and sexuality. This was unexpected; recently, a vague acquaintance accused me of writing a sex column in the Nass. In general, provided I feel in control of a conversation, I like to think I’m fairly candid about sex and outspoken about my beliefs. I don’t know what molded my friend’s perception of my internalized sexual repression, but it’s true that at some points during the show, I could feel my cheeks heating up. I am not an actress, I don’t draw attention to myself in public, I never speak in precept, and I choke on my words all the time when I’m put on the spot. How I ended up talking about my vagina on the stage of a sold-out show is kind of a mystery, but also kind of the point; the monologues go far beyond entertainment – they can be uproarious and hysterical and moving, but to me, they are an important form of activism, a unique and valuable platform to provide much needed respite from the habitual penis monologue.
Neamah Hussain ‘17, in the program to the show, wrote “saying vagina in public is frowned upon, so [I] settled for screaming ‘cunt’ on stage.” I can’t think of a better way to put it, except that what we’re accomplishing is far from any form of settling. We are here to rouse and emote and anger and educate. That reminder calms my nerves. I feel like myself again, and it’s almost comforting to notice that all my makeup couldn’t quite erase the circles under my eyes. Fatigue is part of my identity.
There are laughs in the audience after the first monologue, loud claps as the first women exit the stage. I stretch and leave the room for a minute to breathe. I scroll through my texts until I find one from a friend who came to the first show: “your legs are spread, and I’m in love with how powerful you are.”
When I go on, it feels easy. I see two familiar faces in the front row, but the lights are too blinding to make out many more. The act goes by fast, smooth. It’s fun. People laugh in the audience, and I relax. I spread my legs. “Come inside.”
Between monologues, I run back to the changing room to mess with my hair some more. Nicole is there, and as I dab on a fourth layer of highlighter, I ask her how it feels to be directing a sold out show.
She takes a second to answer. Our eyes meet in the mirror.
“It feels pretty damn good.”