Off Limits got called to the principal's office Tuesday morning. To talk about vaginas.
Patti Bippus, principal at the Denver School of the Arts, had refused to talk over the phone about the students performing Eve Ensler's Vagina Monologues for their senior project, insisting instead that we come over to the school and meet with her in person.
In the intervening decade since we spent too much time in our own principals' offices, not much has changed. But this is the era of the F-bomb, and no matter how staid the front offices remain, students are no longer content to put on another tired production of Oklahoma!. They're ready for cunts and vaginas and coochi snorchers. Rape, mutilation and abuse. Self-love, self-loathing and masturbation. All themes of The Vagina Monologues, which Ensler compiled from interviews with more than 200 women about their "down theres."
This month, Amherst Regional High School in Amherst, Massachusetts, became the first public high to allow the C-word to be uttered in the school auditorium -- and with the school board's permission. Glenn Close had earlier gotten 2,500 people to chant "cunt" as she said it on the stage of New York's Hammerstein Ballroom; Kate Winslet, Cate Blanchett, Gillian Anderson, Whoopi Goldberg and, not surprisingly, Gloria Steinem, have all said it, too. And now DSA seniors Maggie Alexander, Sara Price, Sahar Sattari, Ashley Kleinman, Tory Schneider and Briana Pozner are ready to shout it from the stage -- with the full support of principal Bippus.
But Denver, for all its liberal leanings, is no Amherst. So the girls won't be performing their senior thesis in the school auditorium, but at the Mercury Cafe on March 6, as part of the national V-Day campaign that Ensler started to dramatize violence against women. Proceeds from the show will benefit the Rape Assistance Awareness Program.
"At first Ms. Bippus thought we'd just picked up a book and wanted to do it because it was dirty," Pozner says. "But we met with her, made a whole proposal and included articles about why The Vagina Monologues is so powerful. She met with our parents and basically decided we should do it, but that we couldn't do it in school."
"This is such a powerful piece of dramatic literature that you cannot dilute it," Bippus explains. "We do that sometimes in schools, but this piece is not one you can do that with."
Not artistically, and not legally: In exchange for the rights to produce the play, Ensler demands that there be no taming of the material.
So instead, Bippus suggested the students find an outside venue; if they performed the show there, she promised they'd still get senior-thesis credit. And the girls were fine with the compromise: DSA houses grades six through twelve, and "we'd have felt uncomfortable performing it in front of junior-high students," Price says. All advertising must be done by word of mouth; no fliers are allowed on campus, in order to avoid any confusion over whether the show is school-sanctioned.
But the DSA doesn't shy away from controversial material entirely. In April, the Advanced Theatre class will perform Spring's Awakening, a play written in 1891 that addresses sexual themes, including a woman dying from abortion pills. "We really want to do things that give them the opportunity to explore their art," Bippus says.
"I think our school is a really liberal school, and we're really lucky to have that," Pozner says. "Usually when principals say no, they don't hear you out. Ours gave us a chance to present our case and really listened to us.
"I think that a lot of people don't realize that The Vagina Monologues are relevant to anybody of any age," she continues. "There are monologues where they do it from a thirteen-year-old's perspective. They go from any angle. I like that there's humor and sadness. It really inspires you. You get so excited about it, and that somebody decided to dedicate a play to all the women who have gone through so much."
Adds Alexander, "It's things we all know about and are dealing with."
"We just don't have the same take as a thirty-year-old woman," concludes Price.
Reach for the stars: Elvis was in the building. And former Penthouse Pet Andi Sue Irwin was none too happy about it. You see, the King had kicked her out of the star's dressing room for the debut of Glendale's Penthouse Club on January 20. In person, Irwin was much less buxom than in her pictures, and her legs were way too skinny, leaving her thigh-high boots to sag away from her body like some tired old stripper's boobs at the Paper Tiger. The men in the Penthouse's VIP room didn't even notice there was a stah in their presence; they were too busy chatting up the cocktail waitresses and other lovelies provided for their entertainment. Irwin was just another guest hanging in the corner, tapping her nails and waiting for that man to get out of her dressing room.
But before he could emerge, a conflux of feathers and rhinestones came bursting out from behind the door. The other door. The one that led to the darkened nooks and crannies where the lounge's mix of middle-aged men and young hipsters were hoping -- hoping -- they'd end up with one of the blondes in the thongs, thigh-high stockings and merry widows. And once, when the door opened, we caught a peek of a gentlemen zipping up his pants. But what really went on behind the red velvet curtains and deep in the leopard-print upholstered couches was private -- well, as private as a row of five lap-dance stations could be. To the detriment of couples otherwise occupied, this narrow hallway led from the VIP room straight down to the thumping electronica club below. And now the Las Vegas-style showgirls were coming through, ready to shed their costumes in the dressing room -- much to the chagrin of Penthouse's Pet of the Year 1996. That left the Elvis impersonator, who was just exiting, a gaggle of bombshells and a pinup girl all congregated in too-close proximity. Had a midget walked by, the moment would have been truly Fellini-worthy.
Denver high rollers can expect to pay $1,500 a year to gain entree to this VIP room in the former PT's Gold (the initiation fee is currently being waived), but membership does have its privileges. The boys in the less private, less poshly appointed digs below have to make do with cocktail cuties clad in boring black-leather pants and black tops. The best amenity, though, is the private men's club-style telephone room. John Soto -- governmental liaison for the club's parent company, VCG Holdings, and onetime aide to former Denver City Councilwoman Ramona Martinez -- says that the facility isn't really necessary, since most patrons have cell phones, but if you must call home from the house phone, it comes up as "anonymous" on caller ID. These guys have thought of everything.
As have Dennis Brimhall and his University of Colorado colleagues, who will unveil their own penthouse suites this week. Unlike the Penthouse Club's measly $1,500-a-year price tag, the Anschutz Inpatient Pavilion at CU's new hospital at Fitzsimons will charge between $600 and $1,600 a night when it opens in March. The twelfth floor will feature four 646-square-foot Pavilion Suites, each with a sitting room, bedroom, bathroom and balcony. Guests will be able to choose between a modern-style recovery room or a more traditional space with dark cherry woods; all will have flat-screen TVs, computer, fax, printer, Web access and mountain views.
No wonder people are dying to get in.
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Bowled over: Less than a month into 2004, Charlie Fisher has already had two life-defining moments. His first child was born on New Year's Day, and then he won the Moveon.org Voter Fund's "Bush in 30 seconds" contest (Off Limits, January 8). The Colorado native has been living in Denmark, but he was back stateside on Monday, January 12, for the awards ceremony, where he found out that his commercial on the national deficit had been chosen by a panel of celebrity judges, including Michael Moore and Jack Black, over fourteen other Bush-bashing finalists.
As he headed into the finals, Fisher told Off Limits: "The prize isn't really a prize. Hopefully, the prize is to tell the truth about Mr. Bush. The prize is that the winning commercial will run, and Moveon.org will pay for the media, which is a lot of money."
But now he's been robbed. Robbed! Moveon.org did pay to have Fisher's commercial air last week, when it coincided with George W. 's State of the Union address, and plans called for the thirty-second spot to repeat during the Super Bowl. But CBS refused to accept the commercial, claiming that it doesn't accept advocacy advertising during the all-important celebration of men in tights chasing a pigskin ball.
Too bad that wasn't the rule last year, when the game aired on ABC. If it had been, we might have been spared the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy's creepy commercials in which smoking dope = getting knocked up.