Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues has been empowering women to tell their stories for more than two decades. In fact, the Obie Award-winning play has literally become a handbook for community activism. Its publishers make the evolving script—new monologues are added annually to keep pace with changing global circumstances and lived realities—available for non-professional performances across the nation, as long as those performances remain faithful to Ensler’s inclusive vision.
This month, Lauren Cephus stages The Vagina Monologues in Jacksonville. The production is performed by the women of Jacksonville and directed by her teenaged daughter Qwyn Cephus. Both producer and director spoke to Folio Weekly.
“The project is coming from an activist perspective with the goal of building empowerment within the women in the community,” says Lauren Cephus. “I have relationships with many strong women activists in the community who are strong in public but when you see a Facebook post or speak to them about their individual lives, there is a lot of pain. One morning I woke up thinking of one activist specifically and thought of doing Eve Ensler’s Vagina Monologues to help promote sisterhood and empowerment. No intention to make money, just to connect and have fun.”
Ensler’s licensing structure ensures that local, non-professional performers across the country can stage their own Monologues and participate in the national movement. The script must be followed with precision, and a certain percentage of all proceeds must benefit local organizations. Cephus has chosen the Women’s Center of Jacksonville and the Hubbard House to that end. The former is a rape crisis center; the latter is a pioneering domestic violence shelter.
Ensler also asks that all comers be welcome.
“The cast is composed of beautiful female community members who wanted to take a step out of their comfort zone for a summer,” says Qwyn Cephus. “The casting process was really easy because it’s a part of the Vagina Monologues rulebook to include everybody who auditions. I think it makes the process very encouraging for the actresses because they’re not being judged so harshly on whatever acting skills they may have.”
The Cephuses have decided to ease the performers into the spotlight. Of the two performances of their Vagina Monologues, the first is reserved for an audience of women.
“The idea of having the first showing all-female is to create a safe space,” says the director. “Talking about vaginas in front of an audience is quite a daunting task, so it helps the actresses to talk with an all-woman audience.”
On a personal level, the play is an opportunity for Qwyn—a student at the Douglas Anderson School of the Arts—to spread her wings. Naturally, her mother is delighted to help.
“I have been begging Qwyn to let me be her manager when she becomes famous,” says Lauren Cephus. “Seriously, Qwyn has so many talents as she is a singer-songwriter, author, dancer, guitarist, filmmaker and actress, but she is very shy and usually doesn’t let people know. I really try hard to stay in my role as producer and let her make the decisions regarding directing. She is phenomenal. I learn a lot from her, specifically patience.”
Qwyn is more understated on the subject, although it’s clear that the maternal support is appreciated.
“We’ve never worked together on any artistic project like this,” says Qwyn, “but it actually hasn’t been bad. It’s a lot easier working with someone who I can talk to about my ideas on any day of the week at any hour of the day. We already have such a strong relationship with each other that there’s no doubt that we trust each other with any decisions we make for the sake of the show.”
Still, the old family dynamics remain.
“The only downfall of us working together,” she adds, “is when my mother is still in mother-mode during rehearsal instead of producer-mode. She can be a little protective, but it’s only natural.”
Qwyn plans to continue studying theater—especially musical theater—at Douglas Anderson after the production. A true spirit, she remains open to life’s infinite possibilities.
“We don’t have any future plans,” says Qwyn, “although I would be honored to work with my mother again. It’s a wonderful experience, and I’m happy to have the opportunity to work with such amazing women."
Eve Ensler’s "The Vagina Monologues" Fundraiser, 6 p.m. Aug. 10 (women only), 5 p.m. Aug. 11, Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum, Springfield, eventbrite.com, $15