Last weekend I was fortunate to be able to see my good friend, author and activist (and founder of V-Day) Eve Ensler’s latest play Emotional Creature with my 15-year-old daughter Jazmin. The show is a theatrical tapestry of monologues, songs and dance, performed by a dynamic cast of young women, and is based on Eve’s interviews with girls in the U.S. to girls in far-off places like Congo, Kenya and Iran. I found myself alternatively entertained, moved, saddened, angered and inspired. The show, like most of Eve’s works, does not shy away from the messy, painful, horrific and disturbing experiences impacting girls in the U.S. and around the world that we often don’t like to think about: eating disorders, rape, female genital mutilation, suicide, violence, bullying, the challenges of growing up gay in our culture – many of these are topics that parents and educators rarely bring up (often because they do not have the tools to bring them up). And there are others who find it so uncomfortable that they avoid these issues altogether.
Yet if we don’t acknowledge them and construct beneficial ways to deal with them, we'll never see women and girls live richer, more fulfilled lives, and contribute to improve society. Given the increasing news about attacks against women and girls around the world, we have to ask ourselves, if not now, when? If not now, when do we confront all the issues women and girls deal with on a daily basis in all societies worldwide? This should be a discussion with all of us - women and girls, as well as men and boys.
One of Eve’s recurring and most powerful themes, which came out of her experiences working with the courageous and resilient rape survivors in the Democratic Republic of Congo, is the potential of “turning pain into power”. Whether this pain has happened to us personally, or we are moved by the pain of others, we must find out how we can convert that powerful emotion, whether it is anguish, horror, or just a fervent longing for a safer, more peaceful and just world – into a force to transform the planet for the better. And girls and women, with our healthy connection to our emotions and our hearts, our courage and resourcefulness, our family of sisterhood, are a core part of that force, which has not yet been adequately harnessed. And that is the message of Emotional Creature, it is more than a play, it is a directive, a way of life and a movement.
After the show, my daughter and I had the privilege of speaking to the immensely talented Emotional Creature cast, a group of very self-aware, empowered young women. I asked them what it had been like to work on this show with Eve. Cast member Emily Grosland said, “Eve has almost this childlike fearlessness where she just goes for things." She added that if a member of the cast came up with an idea, "Eve would say, 'Oh, that’s such a good idea let’s try it!'...I think that working with Eve helped me a lot to feel like I should be braver, like she is.”
Cast member Olivia Oguma agreed and also spoke to the gift of working on a show like this that seeks to do more than just entertain. She recalls, "When I first met Eve she was just getting over her cancer and it was just a really interesting experience to be working on a project for the first time in my career where it was activist theater. She sat down and said, 'This is theater activism – you’re not coming in to just be an actor – you’re in to make a change happen'. And the whole message of what’s she trying to do is very intense – it’s not like working with a playwright who is just trying to make a certain story work for characters – it’s about a message and ideal, something that we’re working towards as a group.”
Photo of playwright Eve Ensler by Brigitte Lacomb
Another cast member, Courtney Thomas, shared, “It was the first show I had seen pretty much ever that made me leave feeling like it was OK to be me, and all the messiness that that is. And that is so crucial right now – because there’s been something going on in the world, I don’t know what it is or what did it – but there’s been this push towards everybody should be the same. Everyone should have a computer, everybody should have a Facebook, everyone should do this or that – and if you deviate off that path, something’s wrong. And this show says, if you’re not on that path, you’re completely fine. In fact, you’re more normal. You’re great - you’re probably on a great path actually. So that is why it is so important. I think there’s a big paradigm shift happening that is encouraging people to be yourself. And do what makes you come alive, because that’s what makes the world go round.”
Many celebrities have come to see the show, which has been a thrill for the cast, including Anne Hathaway, Jane Fonda, Kerry Washington, Dylan McDermott, Kathy Najimy, Suze Orman, Rosario Dawson, among others (you can see some of their video testimonials here). But for cast member Emily, the experience of meeting singer Annie Lennox was particularly powerful. She recalls, “Annie Lennox came backstage after seeing the show and she was in tears...she was so incredibly moved by the piece. It was very humbling to be able to touch her in some way since she’s touched my life in so much of her music."
When I interviewed Eve myself a few months ago, I asked her what had inspired her to write Emotional Creature. She answered,"I've been traveling all these years in the world and witnessing girls and seeing their struggles and their obstacles, but also seeing their enormous resilience and brilliance and energy and realizing: what if these girls were free? What if they could be themselves? What if they weren't spending their days pleasing, but were actually in their authentic beings, listening and following their own desires and voices? What would the world look like?"
This play clearly defines the gifts and challenges for women and girls, and given the attacks on females worldwide, this play - and Eve's dedication to confront the horrors in order to free women - is crucial and extremely timely.
Emotional Creature is currently running Off Broadway at the Pershing Square Signature Center through January 13, 2013. The show may have additional performances at other locations in the future You can find out more at www.emotionalcreature.com. (You can also read the book the play is based on, ”I Am an Emotional Creature: The Secret Life of Girls Around the World”.) Visit www.vday.org to learn about V-Day’s work as well as their global campaign, One Billion Rising, taking place on February 14, 2013.
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