Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Vitae Monologues Offer Valentines-Day Alternative

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Valentine's Day is just around the corner, and with it comes the V-Day campaign, which claims to be fighting violence against women, particularly through the controversial Vagina Monologues drama.

The drama has been criticized for its radical feminist ideologies, its explicit portrayal of lesbian sexual encounters -- including the rape of a 13-year-old girl -- and other objectionable material. The campaign, which targets college students in particular, sparked particular controversy as several Catholic universities allowed the production to take place on campus.

However, this Valentine's Day, Epiphany Studio Productions will be offering a new alternative drama, called the Vitae Monologues, which aims to give a voice to authentic femininity as understood in the Catholic Church.

Jeremy Stanbary, founder and director of the studio, spoke with ZENIT about this drama, which he performs around the country with his wife, Sarah.

ZENIT: It seems obvious by the title of your drama that it was made to be a parallel or an alternative to the Vagina Monologues. How does the Vitae Monologues offer a response to this other sexually explicit production? Or how does it oppose the message of the other production?

Stanbary: The title of our play definitely tries to tap into the general familiarity of the title of the Vagina Monologues.

That play is really about exalting radical feminist ideology, which is opposed to authentic feminism, the virtues of womanhood, and the gift, beauty and dignity of our human sexuality.

The Vitae Monologues ties into that title, not only for practical reasons -- because it is actually based on monologues and soliloquies -- but also because our play is counteracting and exposing one of the worst fruits of the radical feminist movement: abortion.

Our drama exposes many of the lies and deceptions of the abortion industry that continue being perpetuated today in our culture.

Thus, while the one play exalts many of the ideologies of the radical feminist movement, as well as cultural or moral relativism, we are trying to counteract these things.

We do this through a drama based on true stories that expose abortion and how it is not good for women; we show that in fact it is quite devastating in the lives of millions of men and women.

Not only is abortion an act that takes innocent human life, but it also leaves a wake of destruction in its path. We try to tell some of these true stories that deserve a voice in our culture.

ZENIT: One criticism of the Vagina Monologues is that the production, and even the title, is so explicit and indecent in its exposure of certain topics. Would critics say that same thing about the Vitae Monologues in its portrayal of abortion? Does your drama have the same shock value?

Stanbary: Certainly some people may try to make that claim, although there is a big difference. The Vagina Monologues seeks to be irreverent; that is part of the play's aim, to have an irreverent shock value. Perhaps this is an effort to try to break down our conceptions of traditional morality and sexuality.

On the contrary, our play is simply telling real people's stories, in a reverent and respectful way.

It is important for people to know when they see the Vitae Monologues -- because there are some shocking elements in it -- is that this isn't simply some imaginative construct out of the playwright's mind.

This play is telling true stories; everything that is in the drama comes from a real person's testimony.

We've pulled from a lot of different testimonies, piecing things together to make the play work theatrically, but everything you hear in the play comes from a real person.

The fact is, abortion is shocking, the truth of what it really is and the devastation it leaves behind.

In the pro-life movement, we have perhaps allowed ourselves to be disarmed by pro-choice or pro-abortion advocates who say: "How could you dare speak of what an abortion really is? How could you dare show these images?"

They are so offended and shocked by these truths when this is the very thing that they're touting and promoting as being perfectly moral and good and good for women. Even they themselves are shocked when they are confronted with the awful reality of an abortion procedure.

Those whose stories we are portraying, and others, have told us that we deal with this very difficult subject in a reverent and respectful way, which is something we've tried to do while constructing the play.

Yet at the same time, we are trying to expose the awful reality of abortion and the devastating effects of it in real people's lives. Certainly there is some shock value to that, but we think it is a positive thing in terms of waking up people who have become complacent on the issue. We need to wake up to the awful reality that is in our midst and realize that we cannot be silent about this anymore; it should not continue.

ZENIT: Is this the main message you're hoping to get across through the drama?

Stanbary: First and foremost, I wanted to get these stories out to as many people as possible. They are very compelling testimonies.

Ever since Roe v. Wade it has been drummed into our culture that abortion is good for women, and that there are no long-term negative side effects.

There are so many levels of deception in the pro-abortion industry, and women are still being told that the young fetus is just a clump of cells. This is what they're being told in these clinics, even at a time in gestation where the child has legs, arms, hands, feet and a beating heart.

We simply want to break through those barriers, expose those deceptions, and portray what actually takes place inside of an abortion clinic.

This is one of the things I was most shocked by in doing my research and interviews for this play: what it is really like inside of a clinic and how biased the so-called counselors in these places really are.

Many times women and men, but women in particular, are scared. Maybe their initial inclination is to keep their child, and yet they are so pressured, misinformed and deceived into thinking that this procedure is no big deal, that life will get back to normal as usual after it happens, that it is just a clump of cells, and that this will be good for them.

What they find out afterwards is that an abortion brought greater devastation to their lives.

Thus the Silent No More Awareness movement is growing by leaps and bounds. We all may know of post-abortive women and men who have suffered in silence for years, even decades, from the devastation of their abortion. They have suppressed the pain and have been trying to justify their decision.

For the people in this movement, eventually the pain and devastation overcame them, and they decided to go through a process of healing and forgiveness in Christ.

So there are thousands, even, I would venture to say, millions of women who are finally coming to terms with the devastation that their abortions have brought them. They admit that this was a bad choice for them, and they are seeking healing and hope.

We're seeing hundreds and thousands of women and men now who have the courage to speak out publically about their experiences. When I heard some of these testimonies in 2005, it planted a seed, and I began wanting to develop a play based on these true stories.

And there are millions of other women and men who are suffering in silence and continue to do so, who aren't even cognizant of the fact that they're suffering from the effects of post traumatic stress disorder from their abortion.

Telling these stories can only facilitate people who are post-abortive and need a process of healing and forgiveness, who need hope, to realize that they're not alone, and these things out there for them. I think most people today at least know someone who is post-abortive.

Hopefully this play provides resources and insights for people to reach out to those people when they need help.

ZENIT: How do you reach out to those women who have had abortions?

Stanbary: It's just amazing -- they come. They end up in the audience somehow.

Or at least the people who know them come to see the drama. And if this play can provide the insights and the understanding that they need to help family or friends eventually come to terms with the negative effects of their abortion and find healing and hope, then we count that as a great success for this play.

We provide resources in our play programs for post-abortion counseling and healing. We also try to provide those materials on our product tables at our performances, and we always mention it after the show.

We invite people to take advantage of these resources if they need them personally or for others that they can pass them along to when the time is right.

It's a matter of education and providing the resources, and this play provides insights into a lot of issues that people aren't necessarily fully aware of otherwise.

Post-abortion grief and post-abortion trauma are very complex issues to deal with oftentimes. And I think this play may help people seek the healing that they need or provide an education for those to reach out to people they know that are post-abortive.

ZENIT: Could you say a little more about your plans to reach out to college students in particular, and what kind of a response you've had on campuses?

Stanbary: We're definitely trying to target this play to college campuses.

We're still very early on in the process, this play being a relatively new play for us. And so far we've performed on a handful of college campuses -- some Catholic and others secular -- and the response has been wonderful.

We plan to work more hands on with pro-life student groups, and help them effectively promote the play.

We're also emphasizing talk-back sessions after our performances, especially on college campuses. A lot of the material in this play is so heavy that we have found it to be helpful to offer a Q and A session after a performance.

This allows people to be able to process and discuss it with myself as the playwright, myself and my wife as the actors, and sometimes also with Silent No More Awareness speakers who join the panel to field questions as well.

Thus, even if people don't agree with a pro-life drama, they can at least voice their opinions afterwards.

We find that it's very difficult to become contentious with the message in this play, because we are simply telling real people's true stories.

We are trying to find ways to draw people in, especially people that need to see the drama.

Thus we're considering as part of a talk-back panel, we can arrange ahead of time to have a prominent pro-choice professor on the campus actually be part of it, with myself and my wife, maybe one of the pro-life professors at the college as well. This will help to draw in people that wouldn't normally see the play, but want to see what is going to happen. They know that someone on their side is going to be represented, so they are more likely to come. This is our goal, to get them there to see it.

ZENIT: What does the future hold for the Vitae Monologues?

Stanbary: On Thursday we will be appearing on the Eternal Word Television Network's "Life on the Rock" show. The network will also be making a studio recording to televise later in the year, to spread the drama throughout the world.

We just performed the play in the Diocese of Phoenix, and Bishop Thomas Olmstead expressed a great deal of support not only for our company but this play in particular.

He expressed his opinion that there is a tremendous need for this play, and said that he is excited to see it getting out to more and more audiences. So we are receiving great feedback and a lot of support.

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On the Net:

Plays are available for booking through the Maximus Group speaker services: http://www.maximusmg.com/

Epiphany Studio Productions: www.EpiphanyStudio.com

Silent No More Awareness: http://www.silentnomoreawareness.org/
Catholic.net

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