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Petaluma hosts ‘One Billion Rising’ event, ‘Vagina Monologues’

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PLANNING TO GO?

What: One Billion Rising/”The Vagina Monologues”

Date: Thursday, Feb. 14

Times: One Billion Rising workshops run from 4:30- 7 p.m. “The Vagina Monologues” performances begin at 7:30 p.m. There is free day care onsite from 7:30-9 p.m.

Where: Mentor Me/Cavanaugh Center, 426 8th St.

Admission: All One Billion Rising events are free; “The Vagina Monologues” is $20, with a $5 discount for any woman bringing her mother, or a man. Tickets can be purchased in advance at BrownPaperTickets.com/event/3902569 or at the door will seats remain

Valentine’s Day is almost here.

While the rose and candy industry gets ready to cash in, a group of hard-working local volunteers are preparing for a popular 11-year-old tradition demonstrating that for some women, Valentine’s Day isn’t all hearts and flowers. Petaluma’s annual presentation of Eve Ensler’s “The Vagina Monologues,” which continues to evolve and change and grow every February, will this year be presented in two separate, simultaneous performances, one in English, one in Spanish. In addition, the English version will have an American Sign Language translator.

“I’ve wanted to do a Spanish cast for four or five years,” says Ronda Black, producer of “The Vagina Monologues/Los Monólogos de la Vagina,” which is being directed by Sharon Hawthorne. Ensler’s groundbreaking play was first staged in 1996 in New York City. A game-changing demonstration of “documentary theater,” the script is a linked sequence of short monologues delivered by several different woman. Developed by Ensler through a process of interviewing dozens of people from different cultures and backgrounds, the play addresses issues of female sexuality, body image, self-expression, sexual abuse and discrimination, rape, incest, prostitution, reproduction and much more, alternating deeply dramatic tales of trauma and survival with humorous, bold, sometimes off-the-wall descriptions of the realities of being a woman.

For the Petaluma production — Thursday, Feb. 14, at Mentor Me’s Cavanaugh Center — Black and Hawthorne have cast an impressive assemblage of local women, from first-timers to experienced veterans of the stage. While it’s often a challenge to recruit so many performers, Black admits the idea of nearly doubling that number, by casting a second set of actors for the Spanish language version, was initially a bit daunting.

“It’s really hard, because sex and sexual violence is not something that all cultures talk about freely,” Black allows. “Culturally, performances of material like that in ‘The Vagina Monologues’ is not always universally accepted. So it’s been hard. But we have an amazing cast, both for the Spanish-speaking version and the English version, and the word is out there that this is going to be something really special. I think it’s going to be very well received.”

Black has been involved with the Petaluma “Vagina Monologues” since the first production here in 2009, when she appeared as part of the cast.

“It was a life-changing experience,” she says. “These are true stories, stories that for decades and decades, women have been afraid to share in public. But the world is changing. The truth is being told, and ‘The Vagina Monologues’ — which Eve Ensler makes sure will continue to grow and change every year — has been a big part of that change.”

This year’s dual presentations - a fundraiser for Verity, a Sonoma County based nonprofit providing assistance to victims of sexual assault - will also mark Ensler’s annual One Billion Rising effort with an afternoon of free community events.

“‘One Billion Rising’ is about awareness, and rising up and taking action,” says Black. “During the free ‘One Billion Rising’ event — which will happen in the afternoon, with ‘The Vagina Monologues’ happening in the evening — we’re having all kinds of presentations that bring awareness. Rick Taylor, from Men Evolving Nonviolently, will be speaking. Molly McGreggor, the cofounder of the National Women’s History Project will be speaking. There will be some spoken word and rap monologues, plus some workshops geared toward healing and wholeness. There will be meditation, and a Travelling Postcards presentation. And it’s all free.”

PLANNING TO GO?

What: One Billion Rising/”The Vagina Monologues”

Date: Thursday, Feb. 14

Times: One Billion Rising workshops run from 4:30- 7 p.m. “The Vagina Monologues” performances begin at 7:30 p.m. There is free day care onsite from 7:30-9 p.m.

Where: Mentor Me/Cavanaugh Center, 426 8th St.

Admission: All One Billion Rising events are free; “The Vagina Monologues” is $20, with a $5 discount for any woman bringing her mother, or a man. Tickets can be purchased in advance at BrownPaperTickets.com/event/3902569 or at the door will seats remain

“One Billion Rising” is a worldwide consciousness-raising movement spun off from the similarly focused “V-Day” social action, both founded by Ensler. Taking place globally every year on Valentine’s Day, V-Day gatherings and “One Billion Rising” events call attention to the fact that (according to statistics published by the United Nations) one out of three women and girls, worldwide, will be raped or beaten during their lifetime. That’s the one-billion in “One Billion Rising.” The events officially began in 2012, sparked by Ensler’s call for one-billion women and men, around the world, to rise up on Feb. 14 and dance, sing, speak out for an end to rape and sexual violence against women and girls everywhere.

That first year, according to a fact sheet on the “One Billion Rising” website, people in 160 countries took part, with more countries participating every year since.

V-Day became an official nonprofit in 1998, raising money to assist victims of sexual abuse and violence around the globe, while offering royalty-free fundraising performances of “The Vagina Monologues” every Feb. 14.

“One great thing about this annual presentation of ‘The Vagina Monologues,’ which takes place in cities and communities all over the world,” says Black, “is that every year there is a different spotlight, a different focus on a category or community of women. Sometimes Eve produces a new monologue for all the Feb. 14 productions to include.”

This year’s spotlight, she reveals, is women who are, or have been, incarcerated or in prison. But this time Ensler did not present an official new monologue.

“This year,” Black says, “she’s asked us to go out into our own communities and find someone who is either in prison or has been in prison, and ask them to write their own piece. The two women who’ve written new monologues for the Petaluma production this year have really powerful stories. One of those women will actually be performing the piece herself.”

It was a contact at Verity, the nonprofit which is this year’s beneficiary of the “Vagina Monologues” fundraiser — who suggested one of the women, who turned out to have already written a piece, according to Black. The other is a local lawyer, who revealed that she was incarcerated herself as a young person. Her monologue describes that experience in frank, lyrical detail.

“It’s an awesome piece,” says Black. “It’s beautifully written, and totally chilling. I think this is going to be a very special production, in so many ways. I’m really thrilled that I get to be a part of it.”