The New Sun: How did The Vagina Monologues come about? How did you get the idea?
Eve Ensler: At the beginning it was really accidental. I was talking to a woman about menopause and then we accidentally got onto the subject of her vagina. She was a really smart, feminist woman and she started saying things about her vagina that really surprised me. I started thinking, "My God, I have no idea what women think about their vaginas, and I don't think it's what I think they think."
So I just started casually asking people, "Well, what do you think about your vagina?" and before I knew it, there was just this amazing world of unbelievable, outrageous, beautiful, complicated, sad, broken, passionate responses. It became this trail that I got pulled into for the next years.
NS: How did you get it from collecting these wonderful stories to an actual production on the stage?
EE: I don't think I ever consciously thought I was going to do a piece about vaginas. I never would have...you know what I mean? It all kind of evolved in this very organic, mystical way. It was really out of my control to a large degree.
NS: That's interesting.
EE: I just finished writing a new Forward to the new book edition of The Vagina Monologues -- the V-Day edition. I just basically said that I feel like the Vagina Queens came, and I've been serving. They just kind of chose me.
NS: And they reveal to you, step by step how to do it.
EE: Exactly. I kind of do what they want me to do. I work out and I drink mocha frappacinos and the rest is really none of my business.
NS: Did you have to educate yourself on how to be a businesswoman?
EE: I've been a playwright for a long time so a lot of what happened is fairly familiar because I've had a bunch of plays done.
NS: So it wasn't new.
EE: No. What's new is V-Day and the whole movement. It's becoming enormous. I'm educating myself about that everyday. Just trying to keep up with what that is.
NS: Tell me more about it.
EE: After I toured the world and the country for a few years I started to become really despondent about how many women I was meeting who'd been raped and battered and incested. I just had to do something. This is an epidemic, this is global, this is central. It may be one of the most important things that's happening on the planet right now -- the desecration of women. Why aren't we doing anything about it?
So, in 1997 we started V-Day which was this day, Valentine's Day, and this energy, this catalyst, this movement to end violence towards women. We decided our mission was going to be to produce events. Using my work but also events that catalyzed, unified and supported existing efforts to end violence towards women.
In 1997, we did our first major event with all these great actors -- from Susan Sarandon to Whoopi Goldberg to Glenn Close. They performed The Vagina Monologues for 2,500 people. We raised tons of money and it was incredibly successful.
The next year this wonderful woman decided to start the college initiative and "The Vagina Monologues" was performed in 65 colleges, directed and acted by students. And it was performed in major cities all over the world, including London, where we did a huge celebrity performance.
In the year 2000 it was again performed in cities all around the world with a mega-event in L.A., and in 155 colleges. Next we think it will be in 250-300 colleges and with a mega-event at Madison Square Garden for 20,000 people. It will probably be done in around 20-50 cities around the world.
We're really growing this movement and it's incredibly exciting. The Vagina Monologues has been translated into 20 languages. It's opening in Norway, Mexico, Israel, and Hong Kong. It's running in a lot of countries right now; from Rio to Serbia. So there's this great, great thing happening. I'm just keeping my energy up so I can serve. It feels like I'm just catching up with it.
NS: How do you keep your energy up? How do you relax?
EE: That's really a good question. I'm trying to figure that out because it's hard in the middle of all this. I work out. I exercise a lot. I'm a Buddhist so I practice my chant and that helps. It feels like this whole movement is really growing and it's very demanding in terms of attention, love, care, and carefulness.
NS: And it started with listening to stories, little by little.
NS: What keeps you going, what gives you inspiration? I guess this whole movement.
EE: Totally. Really believing that we might actually end violence towards women. I have enormous faith and I have enormous desire for that.
NS: Are there other project you're working on?
EE: Yeah, I have a bunch of projects. I'm going to Chicago and to San Francisco from September to December with The Vagina Monologues. I just filmed The Vagina Monologues for HBO. It will be out in September 2001. I just went around the world to perform a whole new piece called "The Good Body." I interviewed women about their bodies. I'm really excited about that.
I have a play opening in New York in February 2001 based on interviews I did during the Bosnian war with Bosnian women refugees. And I have a new play I'm in the process of writing. So it's insane, but it's great.
NS: Do you think women are feeling better about their bodies and more confident?
EE: No. I think that actually the epidemic of Western self-hatred is spreading rapidly around the world.
NS: Why do you think that is?
EE: There are a lot of reasons. I think women are so trained to want to be good and I think it really manifests in the body. And I think there's a natural inclination to want to be good which is not such a terrible thing. It's not "look good and be a good girl," it's "good and be of service," show up for your fellow human beings and make things better in the world. I think women have a proclivity to be good. I think the body becomes the battleground or the landscape in which that gets inacted. So whether it's wanting your vagina to be tighter so you feel like a virgin or you want to be skinny so you feel like you don't have any excess fat -- I think it's all about wanting to be good.
NS: Who's is performing The Vagina Monologues right now and who's coming up in the future?
EE: Brooke Shields, Mercedes Ruhl, and Anna Gasteyer just finished. I think the next group is Kathleen Chalfant, Nell Carter, and Anna Bella Sciorra. Donna Hanover will be in it in October.
NS: Do you have any advice for people who are trying to get a play or any other creative work going?
EE: Yes. Don't expect anybody to come and do it for you. No one's coming. Go and make it happen yourself.