Anyone who has seen a production of Eve Ensler's The Vagina Monologues knows that the 1996 play emboldened the notion of storytelling. The show consists of a group of actresses who talk about the female experience — everything from body image to orgasm to genital mutilation — and has been staged hundreds of times around the world. When VM first appeared, Charles Isherwood of the New York Times called it "probably the most important piece of political theater of the last decade."
That was then. While VM continues to be produced, its issues of gender, identity, sex and violence have gained social and political currency since the late '90s. The means of communication have expanded, too, from Twitter to ... the Kingdom Monologues.
That's what East Albany resident Hannah Pearce, 25, calls her nascent storytelling project, which you might describe as The Vagina Monologues meets the Moth. Her focus is on stories about "sexual and relationship violence, sexual identity, exploration, discovery or celebration, gender identity, their bodies and the intersections these topics have with race, (dis)ability, mental illness, class or body image." That clearly covers a lot of territory — and the project is open to people of all genders.
Pearce grew up the youngest of five children on a family farm, went to college in Montana — where she says she did advocacy work and performance — and returned last year to her home turf. The Vagina Monologues, she says, are "well-known and popular and still have relevance, but frankly they're a little outdated." Pearce says she wants to create a production that's relevant to and representative of the community she lives in. "It's a cool way to experience other people's stories, get more understanding of traumatic things that have happened to people in your community, but to also celebrate gender," she says.
Right now Pearce is soliciting stories via email and says she'll workshop with contributors to fine-tune their presentations. The goal is a performance in the NEK next spring. Monologues can be no longer than 10 minutes; Pearce says one could last just 30 seconds "if it's powerful enough."
She also uses a loose definition of "monologue." A presentation might be a poem or a song, Pearce says. It might include more than one performer. If a person is uncomfortable onstage or wants to maintain anonymity, she'll try to find another actor to perform the piece. The only rules, Pearce says, are that the story must "relate to gender and sexuality" and that "it must be true."
Like the Moth stories, which are told live and relayed on public radio, Kingdom Monologues will not be a "big production," Pearce says. The point is simply for people to share their experiences.
Beneficiaries of the performances next spring, she notes, will be NEK nonprofits Umbrella in St. Johnsbury/Newport and AWARE Domestic & Sexual Violence Services in Hardwick. "Between them they serve the entire Northeast Kingdom on domestic violence and sexual assault," Pearce says. She adds, "When I moved back, I wasn't ready to get back into direct advocacy, but wanted to participate and help in some way."