Their souls on stage

Story by Emily Gresbrink

“‘If you found nothing that you would die for, then you don’t have a reason to live. If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.’ I feel like this show, for a lot of girls, gives them something to stand for. Something to live for…”

This is how senior Jillian Phillips describes the experience directing this month’s production of “The Vagina Monologues,” part of the V-Day Campaign (an effort to stop violence towards women).

Phillips, senior Amber Reed and junior Brianna Mueller are currently volunteering as the three directors for “The Vagina Monologues.” While the majority of college campuses nationwide host a production of this feminist play, there is something about the charisma of these three women that makes Eau Claire’s production not just another February tradition.

V-Mons (the affectionate and shorthand nickname for the show given by those involved) is changing not only the lives of each year’s cast, but the lives of these three women.

Jillian Phillips
Phillips, a creative writing major, first got involved with the V-Mons while attending UW-Stout a few years ago.

“I had heard about the show when it first came out on talk shows,” she said. “I thought, ‘that would be so cool to do,’ so I was just searching online one day and found out you can do a college campaign.”

Phillips then turned around and put on a campaign to UW-Stout. After transferring to Eau Claire, she discovered that a V-Day campaign occurred annually on campus. Getting involved quickly, she ended up directing the show her first year and stayed involved as an actor until this year, where she returns to the director’s panel.

“I’ve done dozens of shows in theatre and this is the only show I keep doing,” she said.  “I look forward to this every season.”

Since Phillips plans to become an English professor someday, directing a show is both advantageous and rewarding for her future.

“It’s a great way to learn how to harness the power of a group and work as a leader,” she said, “and  educating myself on how to learn from them is important too.  You may not think that this can transform your life and inform other areas of your life, but it can.”

Amber Reed
Reed, a first-year director, never planned on being in a V-Mons production. She was active in theatre during her high school career but never planned on it as a major. Her advisor told her to take a theatre course as an elective her first semester of freshman year, which is where she met Mueller. Come spring semester, Mueller had convinced Reed to audition for an annual production of “The Vagina Monologues.”

“Honestly I had no idea about the impact of [the show]. I thought it was just a little play that happens on campus and I didn’t really know what it was all about until I auditioned,” Reed said. “And then I just fell in love with it. I’ve been doing it every year since.”

For Reed, this year is a humbling lesson for the self-described “opinionated” director.

“I think that especially being on a direct panel teaches you how to work with people and compromise and accept things,” she said. “But it’s been awesome to still have my input in there and work with a group that looks up to you. The power you feel from teaching a group of this size is amazing.”

Brianna Mueller
Mueller, who is in her third year of V-Mons, quickly found the production’s community was one that was irreplaceable in her life.

As a freshman, Mueller learned that her dorm’s wing had many strong feminists and activists who encouraged her to get involved in the community and show.

“It didn’t matter what role you had, no matter what you were (in the show), it was just this community that was so strong, so empowered with such a strong message for ending violence.”

A theatre education major, Mueller was “roped into the show” because it’s what she plans on doing with her life.

“(But every year) I keep coming back,” she said. “I (direct and act) even more passionately for something like this.  I just fell in love with this group of women”

For Mueller, this show is not about being in charge but more about advocating V-Day and being a leader.

“They kind of need someone to lead their way. A lot of them (can be) insecure and use this show to come out of their shell. That’s my favorite part.”

The trio of directors
Despite having never directed a show together as a unit before, the three are  looking forward to another year of “focusing the powerful group and utilizing talent,”as Mueller puts it.

“The second we got together to start talking about things and what we had in mind, all three of us had our little niches that we wanted to work on specifically,” Reed said. “But I really feel like we have a specific goal. We want something unique and something big and loud, just really moving. I think the three of us together have the perfect strengths for it.”

Mueller said that one challenge will be putting aside individual wants and thinking of what’s best for the show.

“We all have different voices, so having cohesion is a challenge,” she added.  “We all do have strong personalities that mesh together, but we also have to sometimes step back and think about things in an unbiased, objective way.”

Reed added that being the authority figure may prove challenging as well.

“At the end of the day we have to be the ones to crack the whip. That can be hard because we’re all friends, but we gotta get something done for the cause!”

The power of teamwork
By the time the curtain closes on the last day of the production’s run, it’s not about the power of leading a group.

It’s the power of advocating a message to the community about V-Day.

“I have two daughters and I think it’s really important that we’re selling love and self worth,” Phillips said. “I see a lot of these girls as my kids.”

First-year V-Mons member and sophomore Kristine Rivall saw this passion right from the beginning of her time with the group.

“They struck me as confident and enthusiastic; you could tell they were really into the program,” Rivall said. “They were excited to help me! (I admire) their confidence. Right off the bat you can tell they are proud and open about who they are.”

But at the end of the day, it’s the stories of the young women involved that truly lights the team’s fire. No matter what year a V-Mons girl is — first or fourth — the confidence that exudes from their performances is what keeps Phillips, Reed and Mueller coming back for more.

“You see what (this cast can)do and it’s just the joy that comes out of the girls, especially the ones who come out of their shell,” Phillips said. “I feed off of the strength they are finding and that kind of gives me some strength and happiness, more than I had before.”

“We’re all in it for the community,” Mueller said. “V-Day is a voice. Every year people advocate that voice and bring it out of these girls.”