Eve Ensler -- who will be in Boulder for a benefit for LOCAL Theater Company on Friday, October 11, is known to Coloradans primarily as the author of that raucous, liberating and unflinching theater piece, The Vagina Monologues, which has been performed several times in the Denver area -- as well as around the world. But she has actually accomplished a great deal since writing it. Using the proceeds from Monologues, she founded an international anti-violence movement called V-Day, dedicated to ending violence against women.
V-Day opened a place of refuge called City of Joy in Bukavu, Democratic Republic of Congo in 2010, and has raised millions of dollars over the years for grassroots organizations. And Ensler continued writing. Her most recent play, Emotional Creature, is based on the words and experiences of very young women of various nationalities, races and backgrounds. She also penned a memoir, In the Body of the World, an unflinching chronicle of her personal struggle with stage four uterine cancer, a struggle that she links to the violence, pollution and suffering of people everywhere. The book was described by the New York Times as "raw and powerful" and by Publishers Weekly as "extraordinarily riveting, graphic."
Pesha Rudnick is the artistic director of LOCAL Theater Company, and she worked with Ensler as associate director for Emotional Creature both when it was workshopped in Berkeley and during its run last year in New York. She invited Ensler to visit Boulder and participate in a fundraiser for the group.
LOCAL produces new plays and, according to its website "re-imaginings of the classics." So far, the company has brought John Lithgow's Stories by Heart to Boulder, and mounted the premier production of Michael Mitnick's Elijah.
"Eve is just a powerhouse, both in the room during rehearsal and out in the world," Rudnick says. "Emotional Creature was based on the interviews in her book The Secret Life of Teenage Girls. But it was very important to her that we stay current, so part of my job was helping to keep the play present. If we heard a new story about a woman between the ages of twelve and twenty-one that needed to be told, girls who were overcoming major struggles and girls who were stifled or forced to be silent, that went in." Rudnick ended up doing a great deal of research and fact- and source-checking as the play changed and rehearsals progressed.
One of the stories to break when Emotional Creature was already in previews, and to be included, was that of Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani teenager who was shot in the face by Taliban militants because of her outspoken -- and blogged --support for girls' education. She has since been relocated to the United Kingdom, nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize and named one of Time Magazine's most influential people; her own book, I Am Malala, has just been released. The Taliban, however, is renewing its threats against her life.
Rudnick remembers Ensler receiving the galleys for In Body of the World while Emotional Creature was still in rehearsal, and then sending the book to her on its release. "It describes--and also illustrates--why her need to tell these stories she's been researching for 21 years has become so urgent," Rudnick says. "Surviving cancer is very much about continuing to tell them."
For the benefit, titled Body of Work and described as "an eclectic evening of words, dance, music," LOCAL will present three of Ensler's monologues, performed by Jamie Ann Romero, Rachel Fowler and one of the actors who appeared in the New York production of Emotional Creature, Courtney Thomas. Ensler will then read from and discuss her memoir. There will be dancing by Miss Prissy, the Los Angeles Queen of Krump featured in David LaChapelle's documentary Rize, and music provided by DJ Savior Breath. Wine and dessert will be served at a complimentary after party.
Although some of the most talented women in Denver area theater are involved with LOCAL, the company has never promoted itself as a feminist or activist organization -- but its does field an educational component. "When we finished Emotional Creature and I came back to Boulder, we sat down as a company and talked about our educational program and what grade level we wanted to work with," says Rudnick. "I was very interested in working with middle schoolers because from our research for the play, that seemed to be the population that was silenced the most, partly because of self-silencing and also because of the tenderness of that age."
LOCAL did a sixteen-week playwriting residency at Casey Middle School, and nineteen participating students wrote a play called Our Town: Debunking the Boulder Myth -- the myth that everyone in Boulder is prosperous and stable. "Our students discovered that half their friends didn't have papers because they were brought here illegally," Rudnick says. "Others feel very poor -- Boulder is a community that makes you feel poor." In late April, the students took their play to the YouthCaN Conference in New York and performed it for their peers.
"The truth is that Eve very much integrates her activism and her art, her theater," Rudnick continues. "That's not part of our mission. However, I do feel that my job as artistic director is to search out and develop new stories, particularly stories that aren't being told. Development is the expensive, difficult part, and if anything the courage we need comes from the kind of work Eve does. She's fearless. She's concerned just about telling the stories -- getting those voices out there -- and not worrying about them being cliche or political. She's the most courageous theater artist I've ever worked with. She's not afraid of risk and making mistakes: She is afraid of being silent."
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The benefit, which will support LOCAL's upcoming season, will start at 7 p.m. at the new e-Town Hall, 1535 Spruce Street in Boulder. Tickets cost $75, for more information, call 303-443-8696 or go to eTown.org.