Leaning forward, staying present

'Vagina Monologues' creator Eve Ensler discusses her new play and memoir

Eve Ensler will give a talk Oct. 11.
Photo by Brigitte Lacombe

News about the near-fatal shooting of 14-year-old Pakistani women’s rights activist Malala Yousafzai reached Eve Ensler in a text message. It was already a few days into previews of Emotional Creature, her newest play that chronicles the triumphs and struggles of six young women. It came months after she first encouraged her cast and crew to stay informed and bring in news stories about real things happening to real young women. However, as soon as she heard Yousafzai’s story, Ensler had to act.

“Eve just said, ‘We have to get Malala in this play,’” says Pesha Rudnick, artistic director of Boulder-based LOCAL Theater Company and the associate director of Emotional Creature. “In the next days she had written a short tribute to her. We were all so compelled because Eve acts as if everything is urgent. She’s very much leaning forward and staying present with the stories of women today.”

This kind of attention to social issues is what makes Ensler the figure she is. Her award-winning play, The Vagina Monologues, remains one of the most emblematic and regularly performed feminist works of today. She went on to do pieces like The Good Body, which gained acclaim for its examination of beauty standards, as well as Necessary Targets and The Treatment, which delved into the invisible wounds left by war. Beyond her numerous books, plays and newspaper contributions, she is also a well-respected activist. Her human rights movements, like V-Day and One Billion Rising, have gained supporters around the globe, raising millions of dollars in an effort to stop violence against women.

Ensler will speak about her work and more at LOCAL Theater Company’s Body of Work event on Friday, Oct. 11, a benefit for the company. In addition to performances by krump dancer Miss Prissy and DJ Savior Breath, Ensler will read from her memoir In the Body of the World, and actors will perform a few of her selected works (including a piece from Emotional Creature).

When Ensler learned she was coming to Boulder for the Oct. 10-13 Emerging Women Live event (www.emergingwomen.com), she reached out to Rudnick, whom she met during production of Emotional Creature. Rudnick says they jumped at the chance to have Ensler underscore the work they do.

“Part of what we do is give a presence to those who aren’t heard in our community, and we do that with middle schoolers and high schoolers. We work in local schools where we help kids develop their own plays and then support the kids in taking their play to New York,” Rudnick says. “Eve has dedicated her life to seeking out unknown voices — the pairing was so appropriate.”

Ensler says she relies most on her ability to watch and listen to the women around her.

“I’ve been traveling for so many years and have had so many chances to see girls’ joy and hunger and desires,” Ensler says. “For me it’s about creating stories and imagining stories, and also just about plugging in to what’s happening for them.”

With Emotional Creature, Ensler tackles female adolescence with themes that range from puberty and wearing short skirts to the suffering inflicted by sexual abuse and slavery. Ensler says that, no matter what their circumstances are, girls everywhere receive confusing messages as they grow up.

“We bring up girls until a certain point and then we suddenly tell them that they’re too passionate, too much, too intense, too real,” Ensler says. “I think it’s important to say, ‘That’s not true, in fact they need to be more [that way].’ It would be great if everyone could rise to the level that young girls are at — they are intuiting information and wisdom and energy that we absolutely need.”

Ensler constantly maintains an energy and curiosity about her own growth, a subject she explores intimately in her memoir. While developing City of Joy, a project that provides resources and schooling for Congolese sexual violence victims, Ensler was diagnosed with uterine cancer. As someone who has struggled to strengthen her connection with her own body, Ensler’s illness was both terrifying and illuminating — it finally forced her to truly know her body. Ensler says that this realization not only taught her about herself, but changed the way she thinks about ending violence.

“Nothing is separate,” Ensler says. “I looked at how we treat our bodies and discovered it was closely connected to how we treat the Earth. You live inside the Earth and inside the struggles of the planet. It’s all the same, and this dissociation people experience is allowing a lot of terrible things to go on. So [my book] has a goal for connectedness and a goal for return.”

Despite Ensler’s successes already in forging this connection for many people, there always seem to be steps back for every step forward. However, she doesn’t get discouraged. As long as people pay attention to young women, like Yousafzai, Ensler says the future will be bright.

“I don’t know if I could have done [Emotional Creature] 10 years ago, and here it is getting produced. But we haven’t ended patriarchy yet,” Ensler says. “I really think the key is to get behind girls. If we do, we will find a way to get out of this.”

Eve Ensler will serve as the keynote speaker in LOCAL Theater Company´s Body of Work benefit on Friday, Oct. 11 at eTown Hall. Actors will perform selected works of Ensler´s pieces (including one piece from Emotional Creature), and Ensler will read an excerpt from In the Body of the World. General admission tickets are $75 and can be purchased at eTown.org.

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