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Empowering V-Day comes early

Five years ago, they came to Wilkes-Barre. They came to talk and to laugh. They came to cry and reclaim. They came to empower and educate. They are the ladies of V-Day Wilkes-Barre. They are the ladies, some actresses, many not, behind productions of Eve Ensler’s “The Vagina Monologues.” They are led by stage veteran Christine E. Rock, the director who first decided that Wilkes-Barre needed a little push to raise voices, raise awareness and raise funds to help bring violence against women and girls to an end.

They’ve certainly done a great job, bringing in more than $75,000 in goods and services for the cause. Unfortunately, the work’s not done yet. So this year, in celebration five years of success, the cast of V-Day Wilkes-Barre is performing twice in one weekend. First up is “A Memory, A Monologue, A Rant and A Prayer,” a collection of works by writers, poets, activists and people in the media performed by local men and women under the direction of Rock. The following night is “The Vagina Monologues,” under the direction of theatre veteran but V-Day newcomer Dawn Winarski.

When Rock first began her quest in 2005, she didn’t know she’d still be at the forefront of the V-Day Wilkes-Barre movement five years later.

“While I pictured V-Day still being alive and well, I never expected to organize three years in a row or be directing every year,” says Rock. “I am grateful I have been able to work on it all these years, and hope that I have left enough of my knowledge for the next generation.”

Winarski is helping to kick off the next generation, joining in directing and organizing this year’s V-Day event. While Winarski was involved in one production of “The Vagina Monologues” years ago at Wilkes University, she admits to feeling a bit like the new kid on the block while surrounded by V-Day regulars like Rock, Rock’s husband and fellow organizer Alan Waclawski and a number of cast members who return year after year.

It was actually Waclawski who brought Winarski to V-Day Wilkes-Barre. The two had just finished working on a testosterone-heavy production of “Glengarry Glen Ross,” and Winarski jokes, “They thought I’d like to have a little estrogen for a change.”

While the chance to work with a female cast was the initial draw for Winarski, she was also intrigued by the different style of Ensler’s piece, the fact that all the proceeds go to a good cause and the opportunity to cast both experienced actors and non-actors.

“They’re all very, very good,” Winarski says. “They’re quite talented.”

While she’s enjoying everyone’s performances and is still intrigued by the monologues weeks into rehearsal, there’s one in particular that stands out in Winarski’s mind. It’s a piece commonly referred to as “Reclaiming,” in which the actress takes a somewhat taboo term and makes it her own, powerful statement. In this year’s production, the piece is performed by Christine Skiro, and according to the director, “The way she presents it just makes you want to support her. It’s worth the price of admission.”

In addition to their directing and organizing duties, both Rock and Winarski are performing in this year’s productions. Rock is presenting “Bitter Coffee” by Nobel Peace Prize winner Jody Williams as part of “A Memory, A Monologue, A Rant and A Prayer.” Winarski is performing in the spotlight piece, which for this year draws attention to the mistreatment of women and girls in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Though there’s a lot to accomplish in a tight rehearsal period, doing double duty as cast members and directors doesn’t seem to phase these two stage pros.

“Since all of the pieces are standalone, it’s not that difficult to wear two hats,” says Rock. “The biggest challenge is getting feedback on my piece, but I usually have Alan to help with that.”

In spite of the usual production obstacles like time, scheduling and weather, both directors claim this year’s V-Day has been relatively problem-free, with one exception — getting the word out. While it’s picked up several sponsors, the V-Day team is hoping for more by showtime. And of course, they’d like to see packed houses.

V-Day Goes to School

Just a few blocks south, some students at Wilkes University will do their part to support the V-Day movement with a two-night run of “The Vagina Monologues” organized by Angela D’Alessandro and Kyriel Manzo. Manzo joined in the project at D’Alessandro’s request, and she’s thrilled to be both in the director’s chair and on stage.

“Directing and being a cast member is great because it gives Angela and me a chance to put things together and be a part of the show in two ways,” Manzo says.

Though “The Vagina Monologues” has been on the scene for more than 10 years, Manzo is still amazed by some public reaction.

“The most surprising thing about V-Day is the stark contrast between people who support it and people who think it’s controversial,” she says. “People who don’t know much about the show assume it’s just trashy because of the title.”

Of course, Manzo knows that’s hardly true, and she hopes that both the college and the community come out for a little education, entertainment and support.

“The show addresses many issues that women of all ages and generations may think about, but society says it’s not OK to talk about. We ask, ‘Why shouldn’t we talk about it?’ It’s life! There is no such thing as taboo at the show, and anything goes. Women will leave the show either blushing or pumping their fists in the air, and men will leave the show either blushing or having a new understanding of women.”

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