Kalamazoo College's Student Newspaper
Last Tuesday night Dalton Theater filled with students, faculty, staff, distinguished guests and community members, and an excited chatter buzzed around the auditorium.. The Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership presented world-renowned playwright, activist and performer Eve Ensler, who shared a lecture on social activism through theater.
After a welcome from President Eileen Wilson-Oyelaran, Clara Lewis (K’14), co-editor of the student “zine” Resist Psychic Death, introduced Ensler. Lewis cited an old Hebrew proverb, “What is truer than truth? The story,” and introduced Ensler as a storyteller who seeks and inspires peace, justice, love and beauty.
Ensler took the stage wearing a pair of bright red suede boots and a flowing red and black shawl. Ensler began her lecture by recounting the struggles she faced while trying to establish herself as a writer in New York in the eighties. She battled with her desire to create art and to transform human suffering. “When I was younger, it was hard to dance,” she said.
Ensler described her-life changing moments through writing since then. She said her work from this time, like the political comedy “The Depot,” became more politicized, but always entertained. “[‘The Depot’] was the beginning of my life because I could make nuclear war funny,” she said, “It laid the groundwork for resisting madness, creating dialogues and stirring people.”
Ensler’s passion inspired her to explore social issues like women’s rights and poverty, and sent her overseas in the ‘90s to interview rape camp survivors in Croatia. She concluded that the epidemic of violence against women was a present issue, and that theater presents issues that are right in front of us. She started asking more women about their experiences: “What do you think about your vagina?”
“I was sucked down the vagina trail and, 20 years later, I am still on the trail,” Ensler said, explaining what led her to create the famous “Vagina Monologues.” The fame and the money began to flow, but Ensler was most overwhelmed by the visceral responses to her work from people all over the world. “The power of theater cannot be underestimated because it is not the given narrative; it is our own,” she said.
Today Ensler is still combating violence against women and girls. She stressed that this violence is engrained in the collective psyche, and that we hurt ourselves through these acts because women hold the future in their bodies. “[Theater] uproots, penetrates numbness, is spontaneous, dangerous and can happen anywhere,” she said.
Ensler concluded her presentation with a story about Congolese women who have been empowered to share their stories. “When we cherish other people, then we can have the passion to meet the madness of our times,” she said. She ended on an emotional note by reciting her slam poem, “Refusers,” which was followed by a standing ovation.