In San Diego in 1998, I produced and directed Viveca Lindfors’ play, I Am Woman. It was my first community offering – a one-woman show performed by a multi-woman cast. It was also my first step in understanding the link between art and activism.
On another coast in 1998, Eve Ensler presented the first benefit performance of The Vagina Monologues to a sold out audience in New York City. V-day was born.
In 1999, I saw three actresses perform The Vagina Monologues in a touring production. I wasn’t terribly impressed, though I definitely enjoyed parts, related to some of the stories, and was mildly offended at some of the material. I left that evening thinking it was good show, but what was the big “to do”?
In 2001, I was a junior at San Diego State University, having gone back to school at 28 to earn my Bachelor’s Degree in Theatre. My dear friend and fellow student Anna Myers and I were discussing the lack of strong roles for women in the theatre department where women outnumbered men three to one. We joked that we should produce The Vagina Monologues on campus and cast ALL of the women in the department. Since I had been self-producing theatre in San Diego for a good six years before returning to complete my degree, this idea wasn’t really that far-fetched. I began thinking about it, and Anna began thinking about it, and one day we just agreed that it was something that we were going to do. So, we did.
It wasn’t easy. At that point, V-day’s College Initiative had only been in place for two years, and with our production that year, it would be the first year that SDSU was involved, so we definitely learned a lot. There were 14 of us muddling through all new territory and all we knew was it had to be a success.
It started off as a sincere route to get women onstage in the theatre department but slowly and without even knowing it, it became a movement in us that first semester. At the time, I didn’t really understand why it was so important to me. I really didn’t have a clue as to how much this play would change my life.
That first year we sold out two back to back performances and raised over $7,000 for local and national charities working to end violence against women and girls.
Since 2001, I have produced nine productions of The Vagina Monologues, directed five productions, attended over 20 performances, and served on advisory committees for the subsequent productions after I graduated from SDSU in 2003. I guess you can say that I can’t get enough.
Today is my 39th birthday and 2013 marks my 12th year with V-day. It has changed my life and the way I see the world. To date, our local campaigns have raised over $100,000 for charities working to end violence against women, and the global V-day campaigns have raised over $90 million dollars!
This movement has become the biggest part of who I am. I see how it ripples. I see how it affects people. I see the necessity to end the silence surrounding abuse in our lives. I see the need for a community of people who will support and sustain each other through the rough terrain of admitting that abuse is happening and I see the need to refuse to allow abusive people into our lives. I’ve seen it all. Every woman and man’s story is different but all so similar in that someone, somewhere, refused to help or to speak up or just wasn’t equipped with the tools to put an end to it. V-day gives people those tools.
At the end of each performance, survivors are asked to stand as an act of solidarity. Then, in turn, audience members are asked to stand if they know someone who has been abused. Those who are left sitting at this point (it is usually a very small number of people sadly), are asked to stand if they promise to never allow this abuse to happen to anyone they love. I stand every year at the end and I will keep standing until the day when that last question is asked and every person in the room is still sitting.
The One Billion Rising campaign is an ambitious collective effort to shine a light on the epidemic of violence and to come together to agree to see it end. It is an opportunity to break the silence.
San Diego: On 02.14.2013 at 2:14 pm, will you please stop what you are doing and for twenty minutes, wherever you are, and come stand with us?
What is V-day? (from Vday.org)
V-Day is an organized response against violence toward women.
V-Day is a vision: We see a world where women live safely and freely.
V-Day is a demand: Rape, incest, battery, genital mutilation, and sexual slavery must end now.
V-Day is a spirit: We believe women should spend their lives creating and thriving rather than surviving or recovering from terrible atrocities.
V-Day is a catalyst: By raising money and consciousness, it will unify and strengthen existing anti-violence efforts. Triggering far-reaching awareness, it will lay the groundwork for new educational, protective, and legislative endeavors throughout the world.
V-Day is a process: We will work as long as it takes. We will not stop until the violence stops.
V-Day is a day. We proclaim Valentine’s Day as V-Day, to celebrate women and end the violence.
V-Day is a fierce, wild, unstoppable movement and community.
Carla Nell is the Co-Producer for the San Diego Campaign of One Billion Rising and the Co-Founder of InnerMission Productions, who regularly produce performances of The Vagina Monologues and The MENding Monologues in San Diego. She has been inspiring men and women’s involvement in V-Day for over a decade and will be dancing in February 14, 2013.