Arcata Eye Scene

A-town art, music, theatre. Mostly music. Updated Wednesdays.

‘Vagina’ vs. VenueTech

In Arcata, the word “Vagina” drifts in and out of casual conversation with nary a pause. After six years of Vagina Monologues, one would expect no less. But as blasé as A-towners might be about Eve Ensler’s award-winning play, Eurekans are still wont to freak out – at least that was the way the recent Vagina Monologues versus The Arkley Center drama played out.

While the Vagina Monologues  – henceforth referred to as the Monologues in order to save space, but in no way censoring the word “vagina”*– began as a collection of stories shared by one woman, the show has evolved over the years into a multi-woman show that functions as the centerpiece of V-Day, a month-long focus on ending violence against women. Everyone involved in the recent controversy is on the record as believing that ending violence against women is a worthy cause.

What isn’t so agreed-upon, however, is whether or not the Monologues are a good fit for Eureka’s Arkley Center and why the venue’s management opted to decline director Helena Class’s attempt to book the show there. Class says VenueTech canceled what was, she felt, a confirmed date due to the perceived “conservative” nature of the Arkley Center’s audience.

She wrote, in an e-mail that quickly made the rounds among Humboldt’s Vagina Warriors:

“Dear Friends, I just wanted to inform you that The Arkley Center for Performing Arts took my deposit money, booked my date, and then one month after I had started my transactions with them, backed out of allowing us to perform our show in their facility.” Quickly, a slew of media coverage followed.

VenueTech vice president Judy Barkett differed, calling the situation a rejection of an application and pointing out that the Arkley Center deliberately chose from inception “not to be a forum for political or polarizing issues.” She points to the recent rejection of a Young Republicans application as another example of the center’s aversion to the blatantly political. “It’s not based on the cause,” Barkett said. “That’s been very frustrating for me… We don’t reject any of the causes. Our very subjective process is based on the content and professionalism.” And Class’s professionalism, Barkett said, was lacking. “Most people we deal with are inexperienced,” she said, “and have to understand things like filling out forms is only one step in the process.” They receive calls from promoters asking how much is the rent and is such-and-such date available, but “it’s never that simple.”

VenueTech also had concerns about the play’s usual home being at Humboldt State University. “Our philosophy has been that we don’t want to take events away or compete [with CenterArts],” Barkett said. She reiterated that the decision was due to the late – “in our world” – timing of the request and concerns over the quality of the production, especially regarding what Barkett called “the sensitive subject matter.” Her suspicions were confirmed, she finished, by the media’s jump on the story. “It reaffirmed our decision that this would’ve been nothing but a risk… I’m shocked at the way the press has been manipulated.”

In a practical sense, the issue’s been made moot, however, thanks to Sanctuary Stage’s invitation to Class to hold the Monologues at the Eureka Theatre – where, some may remember, it was held in 2001. Then-director Kristy Hellum recalled, “…The Eureka Theatre agreed, after first refusing, to rent the space for three nights of Vagina Monologues. It sold out! We had the same  problems back then, a few of them thought it was ‘controversial’ and the all male board members of the theater were opposed…. We finally assured the board that this wasn’t a vulgar sexual show and that it was in fact a famously produced piece of theater that was changing the lives of millions of women and men.

They put up the just the word ‘Monologues’ on the marquee the first week, but eventually some poor old fellow had to climb up there with the letters ‘V-a-g-i-n-a’ and add that one very important word…. The next year was even better. We raised the ticket prices and sold out again! …We made over $30,000 in those first few years to give away to groups like the Rape Crisis Center and Humboldt Domestic Violence services.”

Sanctuary Stage’s co-Artistic Director Tinamarie Ivey is “extremely happy” to be hosting the play, she said. “To support such a wonderful cause? How can you turn your back on something that does so much for the greater good?”

Now that the Monologues has a home and the media’s attention is fading, Class is feeling much more positive. “I feel so blessed,” she said, “and so ready to move forward.” In addition to Sanctuary Stage’s outreach, Arcata’s premier production company, Passion Presents, has also stepped forward to help. “I’m so excited,” Class said. “It’s been very emotional… but I’ve stayed true to myself and honest… Thank God for this community. I’m continually amazed at the immense love and support that pours out of this community.”

The Vagina Monologues plays in HSU’s East Gym on Feb. 9 and at the Eureka Theatre Feb. 22 and Feb. 23. For further details, visit vday2008.org.

*What must be pointed out, however, is that “vagina” is nowhere near as inclusive of a woman’s sexual organs as “vulva” and that the word “vagina” comes from the Roman term for “sheath.” As in a place for a man to put his sword. That this limited and… patriarchal… term was the one chosen to be worked into common usage by what’s generally considered a feminist remains surprising.

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