Eve Ensler is a force of nature. There is simply no other way to describe her. She has the zeal of a missionary, which when combined with her intelligence and her capacity for empathy, makes her a powerful agent of change. And Eve is unabashedly on a mission to empower women, particularly young women, around the world. Her favorite message-delivery system has been and continues to be theatre.
It is so heartening to see a new play by Eve on our stage. She writes, she gives speeches, she performs…but again and again, Eve is drawn to the theatre for its capacity to touch people in profound and personal ways. In fact, there may not be another living playwright who has forged such a powerful link between theatre and social change or who makes a more essential link between watching and doing. Her intention is to inspire you to get out of your seat and transform the world.
At Berkeley Rep we always hope that the work we produce will speak to the moment in which we live. It is always our goal that people should leave each show with a new insight, a fresh perspective, an impulse to take action. So we’re thrilled to present the world premiere of Emotional Creature by a terrific creative team and performed by a cast of stellar young women.
With this play, more so than many others, we further one of our ambitions—to try to change the world. So, if you are moved by Emotional Creature and want to find out how you too can help, visit V-girls.org. Become part of a global movement!
by Kathleen Martinelli
There’s only one “v” in Eve Ensler’s name, but in many ways, that single little letter has come to define the playwright’s life, career as a writer and mission as a feminist activist.
First, V is for The Vagina Monologues, Ensler’s Obie-winning ode to the “V” organ and all the physical, emotional and cultural complexities associated with female sexuality. The play made its off-Broadway debut in 1996, when Ensler performed all the parts herself in the basement of a tiny Greenwich Village café. Since then, The Vagina Monologues has been staged around the world, from New York City to Beijing, in venues as large as Madison Square Garden and as intimate as a coffeehouse in Fairbanks, Alaska. Though the piece is now well into its teenage years, it’s as vibrant and popular as ever, a cultural phenomenon that’s remained relevant and fresh due to its exuberant and frank exploration of love, sex, birth, abuse, rape and the female body. The play has been translated into over 48 languages, and on any given day you can bet that someone, somewhere is putting on a new production of the show. In April 2012 alone, The Vagina Monologues played in 1,800 places as far and wide as Hawaii, London and Shanghai.
V is also for “V-Day,” a grassroots project spearheaded by Ensler in 1998 on the heels of Vagina’s massive success. “As I traveled with [The Vagina Monologues] to city after city, country after country, hundreds of women waited after the show to talk to me about their lives,” Ensler explains in the introduction to the 2001 print edition of the script. “The play had somehow freed up their memories, pain and desire. Night after night I heard the same stories—women being raped as teenagers, in college, as little girls, as elderly women; women who had escaped being beaten to death by their husbands; women who were terrified to leave; women who were taken sexually, before they were even conscious of sex, by their stepfathers, brothers, cousins, uncles, mothers and fathers…Slowly it dawned on me that nothing was more important than stopping violence toward women.”
Out of this epiphany came V-Day, a global movement to end violence against girls and women. Every Valentine’s Day, V-Day volunteers around the world stage performances of The Vagina Monologues, screen antiviolence documentaries and hold workshops to educate the public about issues like rape, abuse, female genital mutilation and sex trafficking. The proceeds of these events go directly to national and international advocacy groups, shelters, women’s centers at universities and antidomestic-violence organizations.
In addition to putting together thousands of successful regional benefits, V-Day activists have thrown their support behind a number of pioneering international projects. V-Day funds have helped launch some of the first women’s shelters in Egypt and Iraq; Karama, a Middle Eastern women’s rights organization; and conferences and workshops for disenfranchised women throughout Afghanistan and South Asia. Because of these and other campaigns to empower the global community of women, V-Day has been recognized and praised by a number of outside institutions. Worth named V-Day one of its “100 best charities” in 2001, Marie Claire included it in its list of the Top Ten Charities of 2006 and GreatNonprofits, a website that independently evaluates the efficacy of the millions of nonprofit organizations around the world, designated it as one of its top-rated organizations in 2010.
Like The Vagina Monologues, V-Day has touched many lives. The movement is present in over 140 countries and has raised over $90 million since its foundation 14 years ago. In 2012, almost 6,000 V-Day events took place around the world. The movement is expected to have a banner year in 2013: on the 15th anniversary of V-Day, Ensler and other V-Day activists plan to launch One Billion Rising, a global action calling “one billion women and the men who love them to walk out, dance, rise up and demand an end to this violence” against women. The “one billion” number comes from an alarming United Nations statistic. “More than 1 out of every 3 women on this planet will experience violence during her lifetime,” says Ensler. “With 7 billion people on the planet, that’s one billion women. Stopping this violence is as crucial as addressing the issues of disease, hunger and climate change. One Billion Rising is a global strike…It’s a solidarity reach, a new refusal and a new way of being.”
This fight to eradicate violence is mentioned in every interview with Ensler, addressed in her books and plays and at the core of her many outreach and educational programs. It’s the force that keeps her performing, writing and campaigning day after day and year after year. “Every single day I ask one question: how do we end violence against women and girls? This is the central issue of our time,” Ensler said during a speech this year at Stanford University. “Women are the carriers of lives; to undermine or hurt women is to destroy the future.”
Ensler saw this firsthand when she traveled to the Democratic Republic of Congo, where, in the past decade alone, hundreds of thousands of female citizens have been subjected to insane rape, gang rapes and torture through an ongoing war being fought over the minerals of the Congo. You might remember the dramatization of this horror in Ruined, Lynn Nottage’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play staged at Berkeley Rep in 2011. “Nothing I ever experienced felt as ghastly, terrifying and complete as the sexual torture and attempted destruction of the female species [in the Democratic Republic of Congo],” Ensler wrote in 2007 for Glamour. “It is not too strong to call this a femicide, to say that the future of the Congo’s women is in serious jeopardy.”
Driven to action, Ensler and the V-Day movement threw their support behind City of Joy, a revolutionary center for women of the Congo who have survived gender violence. Located in Bukavu in the DRC, City of Joy is a safe haven for victims to reclaim control of their lives. It provides housing, medical intervention, therapy, vocational and leadership training and arts education for up to 90 women at a time. The center opened its doors in June of 2011 and celebrated the graduation of its first class in January of this year. The project believes that, by giving even a small portion of the country’s victims the space and resources to heal, the entire Congolese population will benefit, since these women will become the next leaders of the DRC and incorporate what they learned at City of Joy into their native villages and towns. “When the women [of City of Joy] find their power, all of the Congo will change,” Ensler has said.
Ensler’s latest V-themed brainchild, V-Girls, is also a platform for revolutionary change, and a means to inspire hope for the next generation. V-Girls is an online social network for young women to communicate with each other and connect in positive, creative ways beyond Facebook and Twitter. According to the V-Girls’ official mission statement, the network functions as “a platform for girls to amplify their voices and ignite their activism,” to “empower themselves and inspire one another to create the change they imagine for the world.” On V-girls.org, members can post blog entries, share pictures and video and chat in online forums—familiar activities for the tech-savvy teens of the Facebook generation, but applied here with an emphasis on positivity, self-expression and empowerment. On the V-Girls network, members don’t have to worry about looking cool or who has the most “friend” requests. Instead, they focus on being themselves and being engaged with the larger question of what it means to be a young woman coming of age in the 21st century. Members are encouraged to branch out from the online network by forming clubs in their local communities and advocating for a girl-centric curriculum in their schools and becoming activists.
The creation of V-Girls was inspired by Ensler’s book I Am An Emotional Creature: The Secret Life of Girls Around the World, which is also the source material for Emotional Creature. Like The Vagina Monologues, I Am An Emotional Creature is comprised of a number of first-person stories that capture a diverse range of voices from girls around the globe. As Ensler told Amy Goodman of NPR’s “Democracy Now,” the genesis of I Am an Emotional Creature came from years of Ensler observing a dearth of youth-oriented stories in the media. “I’ve met so many girls facing so many obstacles, and I’ve heard so many interesting stories and experiences that I don’t see reported in a lot of places, particularly when people are talking about what the world is really like for girls. And so, I just started to put stories together and to just investigate and write down things I was hearing.”
Yet on V-girls.org, Eve Ensler’s name is barely mentioned; the focus of the site is instead on the hundreds of girls and women that form the heart of its online community. As Ensler herself said in a 2012 interview with the New York Times, “I don’t feel like I’m a spokesperson at all for girls. I just feel like, O.K., in the way that The Vagina Monologues was an attempt to communicate stories of women and their vaginas, this is an attempt to communicate the stories of girls on the planet right now.”
Ensler’s vision has not gone unrecognized; the awards and accolades for both her writing and activism are numerous. She’s been the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship for playwriting, won the Isabelle Stevenson Tony Award for her humanitarian work and was named one of the “150 Women Who Changed Our World” by Newsweek. Despite these achievements, Ensler is hardly sitting on her laurels and has no plans to slow down her part in the fight for women to reclaim their voices and their bodies. As she told U.S. News & World Report in 2009, “my goal is to keep fighting violence against women until it stops.” Ensler’s valiant perseverance is also characteristic of her many fans and followers. As Glenn Close, a frequent performer of The Vagina Monologues, has said, “You don’t just hook up with Eve. You become part of her crusade.”
Despite the facts and figures indicating that rape and violence continue to affect devastating numbers of women around the world, Ensler isn’t mired in negativity. “On my good days,” she told The Guardian last year, “and there are many, I can see that a [woman spring] is in sight. We’re seeing all kinds of women activists across the planet. There is tangible change. We haven’t ended violence, but we have built the mechanisms to begin to combat it.” Thanks to the tenacious work of Ensler, and all those powerful “V” words she’s unleashed for women everywhere, there’s every reason to believe that victory will one day be possible.
Emotional Creature features the voices of young women from around the globe asserting their power and changing the way we think about girl energy. Here are 12 history-makers under 30 who proudly refused to be anybody but themselves. Read about how they said no to the injustices surrounding them in inspiring and creative ways.
Julia spent 738 days living in the branches of a redwood tree named Luna in order to protect it from loggers in Humboldt County, CA. The Pacific Lumber Company ultimately agreed to spare Luna and all the trees within a 200-foot buffer zone.
Irish-born Bernadette was elected to Westminster Parliament in 1969 at the age of 21, the youngest woman to ever win a seat.
Rachel, a young activist from the United States, died in Gaza while standing in front of a bulldozer to prevent it from destroying a Palestinian home.
A radical feminist, professor and member of the Communist party and Black Panthers, Angela used her experiences following the Marin County courthouse incident to speak out against the American prison industrial complex. She inspired a generation of activists.
One of six million Jewish victims of the Holocaust, Anne lived in an Amsterdam attic for two years hiding from the Nazis. Her personal journal from the time, Anne Frank: the Diary of a Young Girl, is one of the most widely read books in the world.
A philosophy student and aspiring singer, Neda was killed by a gunshot during the 2009 Iranian elections. Her death stirred international outrage and became a rallying point for the opposition movement.
After escaping from a Maryland plantation in 1849, Harriet, nicknamed “Moses,” returned to the South 13 times to guide other slaves to freedom in the North. In addition to her work on the Underground Railroad, Harriet was also a spy for the Union in the Civil War and a women’s rights advocate.
Considered to be the founder of modern dance, Isadora cast aside ballet’s rigid traditions and developed her own loose, organic style based on ancient Greek art. She was an open bisexual.
Credited with sparking the first protests of the 2011 Egyptian revolution, Mahfouz was one of the most active figures of the Arab Spring and continues to influence Egyptian politics today.
In the early 15th century, a 12-year-old illiterate farm girl claimed to have received visions from God telling her to lead the French army to victory against the English. After a brief but highly successful military campaign, she was captured by the English and burned at the stake for heresy.
Elected to the Afghan National Assembly in 2005, Malalai fearlessly criticized the many “warlords, drugs lords and criminals” serving alongside her in Parliament. After being controversially dismissed from office in 2007, she is now one of the most influential women’s-rights and anti-war activists in the world.
In January 2012, Laura became the youngest sailor to ever successfully complete a solo circumnavigation of the globe.