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V Is for Victory

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Stars flock to New Orleans to celebrate an end to violence against women

nol_apr08_final_medres_page_32_image_0001.jpgIt’s being dubbed the V-Day event of the decade, and on April 11 and 12, some of the biggest names in Hollywood will be in New Orleans to help celebrate V to the Tenth, a two-day anniversary event for V-Day, an organization devoted to transforming the lives of women throughout the world. What began as playwright Eve Ensler’s Vagina Monologues has led to a global movement to end violence against women. V-Day’s “empowerment philanthropy” formula has encouraged women, students and activists to host more than 4,000 V-Day benefits in over 1,500 communities this year alone. And for the 10th anniversary of V-Day, Ensler and her extraordinarily impressive team of leading ladies have selected New Orleans as their host city. I sat down with Ensler, the charismatic and passionate founder of V-Day, to talk about this once-in-a-lifetime experience.

NOL: First of all, I should start by wishing you a happy 10th anniversary!
EE:
Thank you very much.

When you started doing the Vagina Monologue shows more than 10 years ago, did you ever dream that it would turn into such an international phenomenon?
No. I was hoping to get the word “vagina” out of my terrified mouth. In a very little, little theater way downtown in New York. It’s all been a completely fabulous, mystical, amazing experience.

I bet it has. I understand that the Vagina Monologues actually inspired you to create V-Day, but where did the initial idea come from for the show?
It was curiosity. It was really just talking to a woman who was going through menopause. And she said real surprising things about her vagina, and it got me thinking about women and their vaginas. But I really didn’t know anything about women, and I became curious, so I starting asking women questions. And one woman said one more surprising thing after another, which led to another woman and another, and eventually I was sucked down the vagina trail.

[Laughter] So, you didn’t set out to become a vagina activist?
Actually, I set out to be a playwright. But also, I think once I started to see how many women had been abused, raped, violated and beaten, it then became a whole new thing. It was certainly epidemic proportions, and I knew we had to do something.

The show has obviously has great success and longevity. To what so you attribute that?
I think the taboo still needs to be busted over and over and over. I think women need to tell their stories. Many women live in isolation; they live in secrecy. They don’t feel they have a right to tell their story, and I think the play allows them to do that.

You described V-Day as a global movement to stop violence against women and girls. How exactly do you plan to accomplish such a monumental mission?
Well, this is our tenth year, and to date we’ve raised over $50 million. All that money goes to local grassroots groups that are working to stop rape and incest, female genital mutilation, sex trafficking. So we’ve seen enormous changes; we’ve seen laws shifting and being enforced. We’ve seen taboos being broken. We’ve seen places where violence is being reduced, places where it’s actually been stopped. And, of course, violence still abounds, so I think we just have to keep going and spreading and deepening.

From the beginning you’ve had such support from high-profile women. The list is endless. How were you able to get all these women involved?
You know, I just asked them. It’s like the New Orleans production—we have everyone from Oprah to Jane Fonda, Charmaine Neville to Faith hill, Julia stiles to Jessica Alba. Women identify with this experience, and they want to be part of it. And people with names are no different than people who are not known. We’re all part of the same story, which is this deep desire to be safe and free, and feel sexual and alive without being under threat.

You mentioned Oprah. It doesn’t get any bigger than that!
We’re really happy. And I wrote a new monologue about a woman in New Orleans that she’s going to be performing. I’m very excited.

What else can we expect from the show?
The show is going to rock! We’re going to have some performances that are done by people in four different languages moving around the world. Faith Hill and Charmaine Neville are singing. A couple of comics are coming. We’ll see great performances from Jane Fonda, Jessica Alba, Selma Hayek. And we’re giving an award honoring women in 50 countries. There’ll be a whole New Orleans section with gospel. It’s going to be a pretty amazing show. It’s the 10th anniversary mega blow-up New Orleans event!

Why did you choose New Orleans to host the 10th anniversary?
We were thinking, What city we should celebrate the 10th anniversary in? We thought Nairobi, Paris, but I was down here at that time to help women after Katrina, and I just suddenly went New Orleans! We need to celebrate this in the Superdome. And we need to transform the energy and honor the women and stand up for the women. And I’m really glad we decided that.

I understand that there will also be seminars going on?
At the Superdome there’ll be a wide range of incredible speakers, a coming-of-age ritual; there will be singers, a second line from Congo Square to the Dome; there will be the premiere of a show called Swimming Upstream, which was written by the women of New Orleans. There’s going to be lounge rooms for the women of New Orleans and the Gulf South with special wellness programs, including free meditation, free makeovers and free health care. It’s all for these women who have survived so much.

What do you hope women gain from this event?
I hope a lot of things happen. Hopefully this will be a catalytic energy for the next 10 years. I’m hoping we’ll bring thousands to town, so they can hook up with the women here and offer help in any way possible. It’s really important we don’t forget what’s happening in New Orleans; it’s been completely neglected and completely abandoned. And we need to bring as many people here to bring eyes and attention on it. And I hope it will really give strength and fortitude to the women in New Orleans, who’ve been carrying this place on their shoulders.
We certainly appreciate your keeping the spotlight on our city.

I’m on a 21-state tour called “The Road To New Orleans,” and I tell people to come here in every place I go. So there’s a lotta love coming this way.

And what about the role of men in all this?
There’s actually this new group called Men in Red made solely of men standing up for women, to support women, to honor women. So there are tons of men involved in this whole story. We’re bringing a doctor from the Congo—an extraordinary man. We have three panels with men talking about how they can help stop violence against women.

Anything else you want to add?
I love New Orleans. I love it!

What’s your favorite part?
Definitely the people! I love the people. I love how friendly everybody is. I love how everybody supports each other, and creates community for each other. I love the food. Love the music. Love the weather. I love New Orleans!

V to the Tenth will be held in the Superdome and the New Orleans Arena on April 11 and 12. Other celebrities participating include Sally Field, Glenn Close, Ashley Judd, Marisa Tomei, Ellen DeGeneres, Joss Stone, Jennifer Hudson, Common, Eve and more. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit www.vday.org.