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Juilliard Students Raise Awareness About Violence Against Women

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On February 10, students drawn from all divisions of Juilliard presented a benefit performance of Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues. This was the second annual V-Day event here at Juilliard, sponsored by the student group ARTreach.

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The V-Day movement was started by playwright and activist Eve Ensler in 1998. It is a global movement to stop violence against women, empowering groups around the world to raise money for local charities and organizations working to stop violence by giving them free rights every February to perform the award-winning play. According to the official V-Day Web site (vday.org), some 3,700 such events took place around the world last month. In its mission statement, V-Day says it believes “women should spend their lives creating and thriving rather than surviving or recovering from terrible atrocities” and envisions “a world where women live safely and freely.” It sees one of its goals as “triggering far-reaching awareness … [laying] the groundwork for new educational, protective, and legislative endeavors throughout the world.”

The Drama Division’s black box theater space was crammed with more than 70 peers, teachers, friends, supporters, and family of the 22 women performing. Lining the back walls of the room were posters drawn by one of the performers and tables offering chocolate, information about ARTreach’s upcoming New Orleans outreach project, raffle tickets, and Valentine’s Day flower-gram order forms that provided further fundraising opportunities. A slideshow of inspiring women around the School and in the arts in general played beside a table of sweets and snacks. Over an hour and a half, the audience laughed, cried, and listened as our 22 voices channeled the voices of hundreds of women whose stories the monologues are based upon. The show makes palpable many of the unspoken anxieties, desires, pleasures, confusions, triumphs, and terrors facing women that are so often overlooked or ignored in our society. Women speak about rape and other forms of sexual abuse, body image, and acceptance; birth and orgasms, discovery and partnership, imagination and violence are all examined.

The funds raised by this year’s ARTreach V-Day went directly to Day One, an organization working to stop date abuse and domestic violence towards teens and young adults (www.dayoneny.org). Day One is the only organization in New York City specifically targeting young people, working in partnership with the public school system and with many local colleges and universities.

One of the reasons my classmate Sena Rich and I took it upon ourselves to organize a Juilliard component of V-Day last year was the power of language. As artists, we all know there is strength in breaking the silence with words, music, and movement. Speaking aloud the universal stories of women so often kept under wraps connected directly to our lives. Acknowledging the accepted scrutiny, sexual repression, and ordinary violence that is a part of so many people’s everyday lives—and especially the unspoken hurt, joy, anxiety, and violence of being female in this city—is an important step in fighting violence against women here and around the world.

One of the ideas we tried to stress to the Juilliard community leading up to the event is that this is an issue that concerns us all—young and old, male and female. If you have a sister, mother, friend, daughter, lover, or wife, this is an issue that involves you. If you are concerned with the definition of masculinity in our country, this is an issue that concerns you as well. (An organization associated with V-Day, Men Can Stop Rape, uses the phrase “My strength is not for hurting.”)

There are so many inspiring individuals at Juilliard, busy learning and teaching and creating. To see some of them gathered together in acknowledging these issues and how much we care about ourselves and each other fuels me to no end. I cannot wait to encounter all of them—including everyone who was a part of the audience and the organizational team, male and female—in my career outside of Juilliard.

V-Day 2008 at Juilliard was a great success—raising a large sum for a great organization, and starting a conversation that we all hope will continue in our community throughout the year.

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