by Dr Kylie Weston-Scheuber
On 29 April 2014, eight women from Melbourne’s legal profession took to the stage at Storey Hall, RMIT to talk about vaginas. I was one of them. The women, not the vaginas.
This Melbourne production of Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues was the brainchild of RMIT solicitor Karen Abraham, who can only be described as a powerhouse. Abraham first organised a production of TVM last year, with a cast that included Judge Liz Gaynor and ethicist Leslie Cannold. She conceived the idea after meeting Ensler at a conference in New York.
Ensler gives performance rights to organisations around the world on the condition that proceeds raised go to sexual assault prevention. This year’s one-night only production raised almost $15,000 for the Royal Women’s Hospital CASA House Sexual Assault Prevention Program and for V-Day, a global initiative that raises awareness about violence against women.
The 2014 cast comprised Renata Alexander, barrister and senior law lecturer at Monash University; Patricia Athanasiadis, senior solicitor with VGSO; Hilary Bonney, barrister and author; Jennifer Kanis, State Member for Melbourne; Moira Rayner, former Equal Opportunity Commissioner; Prani West, senior associate at Minter Ellison; Beth Wilson, former Health Services Commissioner, and yours truly.
Under the guidance of directors Bridgette Burton and Marissa Bennett, we spent six weeks or so adapting parts of the script, coming up with creative euphemisms for the body part that dare not speak its name, and rehearsing our lines.
For one hour, we strutted the boards, armed variously with feather boas and mirrors, covering a range of topics with the vagina at their core – childbirth, pubic hair, sexual experiences and sexual assault. We laughed, we cried, we tried to locate our clitorises.
A highlight was Moira Rayner’s monologue on the theme of ‘Cunt’, engaging in a poetic exploration of this most taboo of words. Another was Hilary Bonney and Jennifer Kanis raging about the horrors of pap smear exams in ‘My Angry Vagina’.
My own personal climax (pun intended) was to simulate 20 different orgasmic moans. Personal favourites included the ‘diva’ moan (cue high, operatic note), the machine gun moan (self-explanatory) and the surprise, triple orgasm moan (say no more).
TVM was written in 1996 and is based on a series of interviews conducted with women about their vaginas and sexuality. The mood of the monologues ranges from wacky (If your vagina could talk, what would it say?) to awkward (women in a ‘vagina workshop’) to heartbreaking (experience of pack rape in Bosnia).
Although the subject-matter of the play is confronting to some, TVM is a great initiative, not only for the money it raises for two great causes, but also for the opportunity to speak in public about a topic that is still taboo in many social circles.
For me, the decision to be involved was not something I needed to mull over for long. While the idea of engaging in my own ‘When Harry Met Sally’ moment on stage was a little daunting, the opportunity to meet and work alongside such fantastic women was one I simply could not pass up.
And if we made a few people think differently about vaginas in the process, even better.
Dr Kylie Weston-Scheuber is a barrister at the Victorian Bar, specialising in commercial and administrative law. Prior to coming to the Bar, she was employed with Allens Arthur Robinson and subsequently with the public service in Canberra. She has a PhD from the Australian National University. She occasionally indulges her passion for the theatrical and last year starred in Bottled Snail’s production of 12 Angry Men. Her next extra-curial endeavour is in Bottled Snail’s upcoming legal cabaret show, Life of a Lawyer, playing at the Paris Cat Jazz Club on 16 and 17 July.