The “Vagina Monologues” was a staple production at Berkeley High School for 19 years. Based on the 1996 play written by Eve Ensler, the student-run show aimed to capture the nuance of women’s experiences in a patriarchal world. However, in 2019, BHS students Mara Halpern and Daphne Eleftheriadou decided to expand the content of the show. They replaced the “Vagina Monologues” with a show they called “Our Monologues”. Halpern and Eleftheriadou hoped to make the show more inclusive not only in terms of gender identity, but additionally in the range of topics covered.
“Our goal is to continue to develop a show that emphasizes the value of talking about what goes on here. In our experience, the act of talking and listening is the best way to heal and move forward,” reads the production’s website, where students can also find recordings of past monologues.
And “Our Monologues” has done just that. In contrast to The “Vagina Monologues”, in which different students performed the same monologues year after year, “Our Monologues” is based on student submissions so that the show is unique every year and representative of BHS students’ feelings, covering topics they are passionate about.
Over the years the show has performed topics ranging from gender and sexuality, to racism, mental health, and sexual violence.
“It’s a really unique space that isn’t offered in many other places, where you can represent yourself on stage as yourself and not as a character,” said Jessica Hipona, a performer from last year’s production.
The submission process begins at the start of the school year and lasts until October. Students can submit multiple monologues and have the option of including their name or remaining anonymous. After the submission deadline, the directors go through the monologues and choose the best ones for the show. “It is primarily based on the writing and the subject matter. We want to make sure there is a variety of stories but that the writing is also high quality,” said Meilin Jokela, who was in the show last year and is returning as a co-director this year.
The student-writers of the chosen monologues are given the opportunity to perform their piece if they wish to do so. But for those who do not want to, the production invites other BHS students to audition for the show. “We want a diverse cast who will be able to represent the stories we are trusted with, so that means we try to pick people from a variety of backgrounds who have the potential to add their talents to our performance,” said Jokela.
Once the monologues and cast members are finalized, the group finally begins to rehearse, with an emphasis on building community. Every rehearsal begins with a check-in where the cast members have the opportunity to share what’s going on in their lives and how they are feeling. Outside rehearsals, cast members also take excursions together to get to know one another better and build strong chemistry that they hope is evident on stage, reaching the community.
“I like to describe (“Our Monologues”) as a community first and a production second … By the time we’re performing, the performance is mainly for us. We’ve worked so hard that at that point performing is just a bonus,” said Arunima Stoller, who was in the past two productions of the show and is returning this year as the other co-director of the production.
For Stoller, Hipona, and Jokela, “Our Monologues” provides a safe space and opportunity to talk about issues that are considered taboo or often overlooked.
“It really brings people together because people can be vulnerable with each other and we can learn from each other’s experiences and relate to each other,” said Jokela. Stoller added that the production helps people, both cast and audience members alike, see that they are not alone, a sentiment echoed by Hipona.
“As somebody who first went and watched ‘Our Monologues’ before joining it, I remember it really inspiring me to step more into myself and be more authentic to who I want to be and who I am.” said Hipona.