As Berkeley Rep Artistic Director Tony Taccone has it, playwright Eve Ensler "is dedicated to this almost antiquated notion that theater can change lives." Remarkably, her 1996 play The Vagina Monologues did just that. It launched a campaign called V-Day that has raised millions of dollars to combat violence against women worldwide. It exploded the way Americans talk about female sexuality, insisting that we learn to say the very word "vagina" without shame. Now Ensler is looking to change lives again with her new play Emotional Creature, which premieres this month at Berkeley Rep. Adapted from her book I Am an Emotional Creature: The Secret Life of Girls Around the World, the play is a series of monologues from fictional young women. We spoke with Ensler about the impetus for the project, her creative process, and the status of girls in the world today.
What are the struggles that girls face today?
The attempt of the world to shut down girls and abuse girls and undermine girls and censor girls. Just look at basic statistics — the level of girls who are being sold, who are being raped. Among college students, I think it's one out of five college girls will be raped. The number of eating disorders on the planet, the number of girls who are trafficked, who are cut.
So how did this turn into the book I Am an Emotional Creature?
I think it was just all the years of travelling around the world that let me see girls in the various situations and the incredible struggles and obstacles that they're facing right now. And also seeing the mighty resilience of girls and their ability to overcome things. This combination just seemed right for something theatrical.
This idea of girls was living in me for a long time. Unlike The Vagina Monologues, I didn't go out and do hundreds and hundreds of interviews. It was more like turning my attention to situations in front of me, and there were many things that I invented based on things that I'd read or things that I'd experienced or things that I'd imagined.
Which monologues made the transition from the book to the stage?
Well, you might have to come and see! I can tell you that the "Let me in" piece, the girl who feels left out in the American suburbs, the trafficked girl from the Congo, the girl from Kenya who confronts her family and their traditions, the Barbie factory worker in China — those made it in. There are some new ones that aren't in the book that I wrote specifically for the play.
You and Berkeley Rep are giving away 3,000 tickets to the show. How did that come about?
What we're hoping to do with the play is create a movement, V-Girls, for girls — and boys. It's already begun. We hope young people will become activists and self-empowered philanthropists who start to use the play as a tool the way we use The Vagina Monologues — to raise money and change consciousness. So it was really important to me and to Berkeley Rep that everybody got to see the play, people who could afford it and people who couldn't afford it. We were really fortunate: Amazing people came forward and raised the money so that we could give away 3,000 seats, which I'm just so excited about.
Why the title Emotional Creature?
I think emotions have gotten a really bad rap, and I'm sick of it. And I think there's a way that we have diminished people and undervalued people and put people down because they're so emotional. We have become a very uncompassionate world, a very dislocated and dissociated world. As a girl, I was told from the time that I was born that I was too intense, too emotional, too dramatic, too alive, too much—too, too, too. And actually, no, we're not too much. We need to be more "more!" We shouldn't be afraid of our intensity; we shouldn't be afraid of how deeply we feel things; we shouldn't be afraid to be as devoted and revolutionary and misbehaved as we are.
What brought you back to the Berkeley Rep?
Berkeley Rep is one of the great theaters in America: Some of the most radical, cutting-edge work, really addressing the social issues of our time. But I would also say ... there are vagina-friendly cities, and there are vagina-kind towns, but this is a vagina world fair zone.
What's your biggest hope for this play?
I really hope men and boys will come to the show. There's a girl inside everyone. This is about claiming your girl energy, claiming your epidemic, revolutionary, heart-opening energy, and everybody needs to come.