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‘Vagina Monologues’: Local women bring famous production to Gainesville this month
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The cast of "The Vagina Monologues." Back row from left, Stacey Dickson, LeTrell Simpson, Lydia Sartain, Ginny Early, Haley Bower. Middle row from left, Mary Stanford, Deborah Mack, Nairika Kotwal Cornett. Front row from left, Elizabeth Burnette, Jill Mansfield. Not pictured is Ann Nixon. Photo by David Simpson.

A group of influential Hall County women are putting on the area’s first-ever performance of “The Vagina Monologues” in Gainesville.

The play written by Eve Ensler was first performed in 1996 and explores female life in America, including sexual experiences, body image, genital mutilation and other issues through the eyes of multiple women telling personal stories.

‘The Vagina Monologues’

When: Reception begins 6:30 p.m., show begins 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 10

Where: Pearce Auditorium, 202 Boulevard NE, Gainesville

More info: www.vmgainesvillega.com

How much: $50

To write the play, Ensler interviewed 200 women about their lives and experiences. 

“No recent hour of theater has had a greater impact worldwide,” wrote Alexis Soloski in the New York Times article, “The Great Work Continues: The 25 Best American Plays Since ‘Angels in America.’”

And now, the play is coming to Gainesville on Aug. 10 at Brenau University’s Pearce Auditorium.

The production was organized by Nairika Kotwal Cornett as a fundraiser. Cornett is a participant of the local Dancing With The Stars, and each participant raises money for local charities.

Cornett has a bit of surprising background with the play: Her mother, Mahabanoo Mody-Kotwal, has produced, directed and appeared in the play for the past 15 years in Mumbai, India, where she still lives.

I knew that there would be rehearsals where we couldn’t stop laughing and there were rehearsals where we couldn’t stop crying. We’ve gone through all of that, and we’ll go through it until the day we perform.
Nairika Kotwal Cornett

And Mody-Kotwal has come to Gainesville to direct the local production of “The Vagina Monologues.”

There’s sure to be a few names you recognize among the cast: Haley Bower, Elizabeth Burnette, Stacey Dickson, Ginny Early, Deborah Mack, Jill Mansfield, Ann Nixon, Lydia Sartain, LeTrell Simpson, Mary Stanford and Cornett herself.

The play stirred controversy when it was first performed in the 1990s, and while gender roles have shifted as more women enter the workforce, Cornett said she expected the production to ruffle some feathers and furrow some brows in Gainesville.

What she didn’t expect was the overwhelming support she received from the women she asked to participate in the production.

“I had no trouble,” Cornett said. “I had made a list. I would literally for a week, every little piece of paper, whether it was at dinner on a paper napkin — and I know this sounds cliche — but every time a name came to mind of a woman who has had an impact on me or this community, I wrote down the name. I started just asking, and not a single one said no to me.”

In fact, she ended up having to turn some women away who wanted parts, a fact she attributes to the spirit of the women involved, the value of the nonprofits benefiting from the fundraiser and the power of the play.

“While we’ve made tremendous progress, and I’m truly one of those people who acknowledges that — as humans our trajectory is very optimistic. Maybe we don’t see it day to day when we take it case by case, but go back 20 years from now, go back 40 years from now. We have seen tremendous progress,” Cornett said. “Are we there yet? Absolutely not.”

Bowers was born and raised in Gainesville, attended North Hall High School and got a masters from Brenau University. She now works at Clipper Petroleum, a convenience store retailer, fast food retailer, and wholesale fuel distributor, as its director of technology and as a wholesale saleswoman.

Bower was an enthusiastic participant once recruited by Cornett, jumping into rehearsals beginning several weeks ago and eventually discovering her own unexpected connection to the play.

“I found out my youngest sister, Anna, had actually been one of the producers of ‘The Vagina Monologues’ at Furman University when she was in college for V-Day awareness,” Bower said.

V-Day was also created by Ensler and is a day of activism to end violence against women and girls.

Bower discovered a deep empathy not just for the subjects of the play, but for her fellow cast members.

“We’ve read all of the play just with our one-on-ones with Nairika’s mom … and some of the other girls we’re doing parts with, but all of us had never been together and heard each person’s voice and how they’re acting,” Bower said. “It was powerful — we laughed, we cried. 

“And afterward, a lot of women shared their personal experiences of being raped, of being sexually assaulted, and that just hit you to your core — knowing your friends in the community and these women you’ve grown to really, really just love over the past several weeks … that this has happened to them. It hit home.”

With permission from Ensler, who also gave her blessing for the play to be performed in Gainesville, some of the lines of the play have been tweaked to reflect the Gainesville and Hall County areas.

Tickets to the show are $50 each. The money raised will be distributed through Dancing for a Cause to local nonprofits Rape Response, Centerpoint and Alliance for Literacy.

A reception is set for 6:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 10, at Pearce Auditorium. The show, which is for an adult audience, begins at 7:30 p.m.

Both Cornett and Bower said the play is for both women and men. Both hoped that men especially would come to see the play to understand the reality — and the true danger — faced by many women even in 2019.

“Our rehearsals are cathartic in more ways than possibly they expected. I completely expected it,” Cornett said. “I knew that there would be rehearsals where we couldn’t stop laughing and there were rehearsals where we couldn’t stop crying. We’ve gone through all of that, and we’ll go through it until the day we perform.”

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