Smile, Sweetie

When I performed in the Vagina Monologues, I anchored the show with the final meditative monologue about birth. The final evening of the show, the entire front row was filled with friends of one of the other actresses. They were drunk, loud, on their cell phones, and apparently oblivious to the point of the show and to the size of the theater (teeny) which amplified their every giggle, conversation, guffaw, and drunken comment.

Most of the actresses came back stage after their monologues upset at how they were treated. They didn’t say anything out loud, but in hushed whispers of annoyance and embarrassment. No one blamed the actress whose friends these were, of course. But they certainly blamed the front row.

By my turn, by the time of my monologue, I was terrified. This monologue is graphic, unpretty, and in verse.  I had struggled to find the right pace, the right delivery, to honor the piece.  My cast mates cringed every time I gave the monologue in rehearsal. “It’s gross.”

I was right to be upset. They laughed and groaned and talked about the piece through the whole thing. I was mortified. MY friends were in the crowd as well. The proceeds of this show were to go to rape victim advocates in Chicago. There was no decency. The snickering which had been going on all night with the first row dissolved into hysterics when I spoke of blood and shit and pain and crowning.

My performance was angry at that point. I went backstage ANGRY. I cursed upon getting backstage. I called them Fucking Assholes as I wiped away my tears of embarrassment and frustration. I had, literally, 20 seconds to get back onstage for the curtain call.

I was told…as so many women are told when they are emotional, when they are angry — even or especially justifiably so — to CALM DOWN.

Don’t be mad.
Please smile.

Smile.

Be happy.

Don’t Be MAD.

I made certain I told the actress associated with the fools in the front row that in no way did I blame her, did I credit her, was I mad at her. In no way was their behavior a reflection on her.

And yet, all the women in the show…the women who’d spent long rehearsals talking about Female Empowerment…told me not to be angry. Ran to the other actress and commented that I was a bitch.

My anger was the bad guy.

This is why I don’t think The Vagina Monologues should be a cast of 20-year-olds and me.

My work was insulted. The author’s work was insulted. The director, the cast, the producer…all of our work insulted. The rape victims program was insulted.

But I was the bitch.

No, angry isn’t nice.

Anger is powerful, though. And scary to those who worry about being liked. It’s ok to be angry about Rape and Injustice and Sexism and Racism when they are far away or just abstract nounds. Angry about real stuff? Nope. Not nice.

I’m good at anger though. I’ve learned to be mad, get it out appropriately, and move on. I don’t dwell. I don’t stuff it down. I don’t backstab. It’s hard for some people to take that at face value, though.

An entire segment of the audience (not the front row guffawers) gave me a standing ovation when I came out…probably out of pity….definitely out of sisterhood. I bonded more with those women, who were 30, 40, 50…than I did with the cast. And I never met them.

I get it, though. I insulted my castmate’s friends. That was uncool…and I wish I’d expressed my upset more classically. Or classily.

Or was it? I waver…

I haven’t really been the same artists since.

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