Every spring, Women of Amherst puts on a play, inspired by and expanding upon Eve Ensler’s feminist play “The Vagina Monologues.” The play is a series of separate skits all centered on issues women face, and all the skits are student-written submissions. Currently, Women of Amherst is collecting submissions from students to include in the play. I sat down with director Sydney Tate ’18 to learn more about the play itself and how students can submit.
Olivia: How would you describe the project that you’re working on?
Sydney: Women of Amherst is something that I got into when I was a sophomore, and I’m a senior now. It’s basically a show that is put on by Amherst students of material written by every student that is supposed to be a response to “The Vagina Monologues.” It is also kind of critiquing what it means to be a woman, especially in times like these, as we consider non-binary and trans women and what all that means to be a girl. So we put it on every year in the spring where we tell stories from people who like submit things about hardships and triumphs or anything— from somebody cat calling them to winning their first trophy or having troubles with parents. It’s any type of story we accept.
O: What have been some of your favorite stories you’ve performed?
S: Every year, we do one story about abortion, which I think is a very powerful story; there are a couple pieces that are in it every single year, and that is one of the most powerful ones. We also do one called Body Positivity which at the end of it —I don’t know if I should give it away — whoever is in it always strips down to their underwear. I did it once and it was honestly the most exhilarating but also terrifying things I’ve ever done. I love doing pieces that are very vulnerable because I think that’s very real, and I think that’s something people don’t talk about a lot of the time. Last year, someone wrote about eating disorders, which was very real, raw, and it hit home for me.
O: Have you ever submitted pieces for the play? If so, how was the experience of playwriting and how was it different from directing?
S: I wrote a good chunk of the show last year. That was my first time submitting any of my work to be performed. I’m writing a creative writing thesis this year, and it kind of was a response to that; I thought, “Maybe I should submit this.” It was honestly very exciting and moving for me to hear my stuff performed. I performed one of my own pieces, but a lot of people performed pieces that I wrote but wasn’t in. It was great to hear the words I had to say being spoken by somebody and to see how they interpreted it and then seeing how the audience took it in, so that was great also.
O: What inspired you to get involved with this play, rather than any other production?
S: When I first got involved, I was actually in a class with Lee — who was one of the directors. We were in a class called Black Feminist Literary Traditions together, and through having conversations with her after class, she stopped me one day and was like, “hey, have you heard of this?” and I hadn’t, so she explained it to me and asked if I wanted to come to one of the meetings, and I ended up in this show. I think just the experience of it reminded me that it’s really important that people are sharing their stories and I just saw that it was very powerful thing to do, so that’s why I wanted to continue on doing it. Then I was lucky enough to be chosen as the co-director last year by the head director. I really loved what I did last year and what the show does for people, so that’s why I decided to stay involved, and I love writing and getting submissions, organizing scripts, and everything like that.
O: Now that you’re you’re at the helm, what are some things that you want to continue from past years and what are what are some new things that you want to incorporate? What is your vision?
S: Last year it was a great show, and I really loved it, but it was also much more heteronormative than I would have hoped for it to be, so this year we’re trying to add a lot of news stories that are going to be from different people and from all different perspectives of womanhood, not just the hetero-normative and what you would expect. So that’s one thing. We’re going to be doing a lot of write-ins this year, which I’m really excited about. I’m excited for people to come in and just write in the space with facilitators so that’s going to be really cool.
I think for me, I also want the cast to bond more. It’s not that we didn’t bond last year, but I feel like this is such a powerful experience and we are sharing our stories, and I feel that we should be like sharing these things with each other and be bonding more. I’m definitely excited to do more activities, not just acting activities but bonding materials and things like that.
O: What stage of production are you currently in?
S: We get our cast after we get our submissions. So right now we are in the very beginning stages. We are getting submissions right now. We’re working with Jesse and the WGC; they always partner up with Women of Amherst to put on the show. When we get back from winter break is when we start tabling for cast members.
O: When is the show?
S: The show is usually around April. This year it is going to be on April 20 and 21.
O: What are the key themes that you include in every year’s show?
S: We always have one on abortion,we have one on body positivity, we typically have one cat calling; we have one at the end on masturbation, which is very fun one to do, and that always ends out the show. Those are the only keynote skits we have every year, but we do have a bunch of similar themes like we always talk about, family dynamics. People always talk about eating, about fitting in; people talk about relationships. Depending on how the themes all tie together, we come up with the title for the show, so last year the title was “Diary of a Nasty Woman” because we had a lot of diary-esque entries. We always come up with, “What is this year’s theme?” for all submissions.
O:What do you think is important for the audience to take away from the show?
S: I think it’s really important for people to see these kids and to see people’s words to know that they’re not the only ones going through what they are going through. A lot of the things in the show are very stigmatized and are things a lot of people don’t talk about, so a lot of time people think they’re the only people going through this. It’s also saying things like it’s okay to talk about abortion; it’s okay to mastrbate. Basically, I want people to know that there are other people out there for them and that this is a very normal thing.
O: How do you think this play is particularly relevant at this moment in history, especially considering where we as a society are politically and socially?
S: Well, I mean, it’s very significant because everything that’s going on with policy changing around abortion, and policy changing about the rights of trans women in our country. So I think that’s really important, to be touching on how this political climate is affecting all these different people, and it’s very important to think about. I feel like depression and anxiety have really gone up in our times right now, especially for women of color and especially for trans women of color, so I think it’s very important that we touch on those issues and that we let people express themselves through this play and through their words.