The power of the theater as a space for uplifting unheard voices, creating productive dialogues and teaching and healing has been touted by playwrights and actors across many times and places. Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator and director of the popular Broadway musical “Hamilton: An American Musical,” gave an interview to NBC news about the way theater functions as a powerful personal and collective experience.
“I think that there’s a healing effect to theater,” Miranda said. “There’s something about everyone being in the same room and having the same experience that is powerful and increasingly rare. We curate our reality more than ever [by unfollowing] people we disagree with. I think that [the theater’s] power is in everyone being in a room, putting down their phones.”
MENding Monologues at UCSD seeks to use that healing ability of theater to create dialogue and promote learning on our campus. Through monologues, they seek to “provide a space for men to take a stand against gender violence through the true stories of previous and current cast members’ experiences.” Some of the topics they touch on include sexism, toxic masculinity, allyship and societal gender norms.
After managing to snag a few minutes in their busy schedules, I sat down with the production’s two co-directors to discuss how they became involved. Despite the immense stress and time crunch they were under — minutes before I started the interview they were discussing finding another funding source — they were more than happy to talk about their experience with the production process and what they hope to see MENding Monologues at UC San Diego become in the future.
Co-director Ryan De Leon, a senior from Earl Warren College, explained how the MENding Monologues emerged out of the need to create a space for dialogue similar to the Vagina Monologues. Known as VagMo for short, it began as a play by Eve Ensler that delves into the experiences of women of all ages, races and body types by discussing typically “taboo” topics like sex, menstruation and vaginas. UCSD held its own version of the Vagina Monologues and Herstories this past February that aims to “[empower] women as well as [create] a safe space to learn and think about what it means to be a woman.”
“Back in the ‘90s, there was a person named Derek Dujardin who saw the Vagina Monologues and wanted to create a similar space for males,” De Leon told the UCSD Guardian. “Dujardin created the MENding Monologues back in the mid-2000s and since then, it has had a few locations in Arizona and California … San Diego has become one of the bigger hubs for MENding communities.”
Co-director Justin Abadejos, a Masters student in the biology department, described the existing San Diego MENding community’s efforts to bring a production to the campus.
“[San Diego MENders Kurt Savage, Joe Fejeran and Greg McAfee] had been trying to put together a production [at UCSD] for the past three years but they hadn’t found the right people to bring it together,” Abadejos explained.
One of VagMo’s directors, Lizzie Hodgdon, began collaborating with the local San Diego MENders to kickstart the first production at UCSD. Abadejos cited the energy and momentum that came with the Vagina Monologues that led them to become interested in the MENding Monologues, even attending a San Diego production where they fell in love with the dialogue and concept.
“the men that we’ve found to perform these pieces and share their stories are really empowering people”
“After Vagina Monologues comes, there’s always a really empowered group of men that want to put on something for the other side, y’know, the male side,” Abadejos told the Guardian. “It is so much different than how Vagina Monologues is; here at UCSD it’s more of a staged reading rather than a performance, and then the issues from the male side. [They’re] differently similar. It’s great to see that contrast but also the similarity of thought.”
As the first time UCSD has put on a MENding Monologues production, there are a lot of logistical hurdles to get over in order to create a successful production. Both Abadejos and De Leon had tried out for cast or crew roles; they did not intend to be directors, but were asked to take on a leadership role because of their experiences in other organizations. They officially accepted their roles as co-directors in mid-April, leaving them with seven weeks to put together a production before the end of the quarter.
“A lot of what we’ve tried to do is take what we know from other organizations and bring that into MENding Monologues,” De Leon explained. “So that’s like Google Drive organization or logistical meetings … There’s just been a huge mountain of things to do that people really don’t see.”
Abadejos heartily agreed with the sentiment, rattling off a list of tasks that included booking a venue, finding supporters, reaching out to community partners, networking with organizations on campus and finding a cast and crew.
“One thing that we wish we could have more of is just time,” Abadejos said wistfully. “We got into directing without any kind of acting or stage managing experience, and we just built this essentially from ground floor up about six weeks ago. We’ve successfully and luckily found an amazing group of people.”
The inaugural cast and crew of MENding Monologues will be performing 13 monologues, five of which are original and written by cast members. They drew on a canon of monologues written by Dujardin while incorporating the unique perspectives of the UCSD community.
“Our cast especially and the men that we’ve found to perform these pieces and share their stories are really empowering people; you will see from the performances that their stories are very moving and address so many issues that we overlook all the time,” Abadejos explained proudly.
This year’s MENding Monologues at UCSD will focus on the central theme of “redefining the modern man,” a particularly important dialogue to have on a college campus where many young adults are coming of age.
The space that MENding provides is “pheno[men]al” in that men are so rarely given the chance to be vulnerable and open with other men.
“We find that it’s important to talk about [the theme] because [many] use college as an experience where they can be more comfortable in their own skin,” De Leon noted. “We find that the original ones pertain much more to personal stories of younger men. In the canon there exists a lot of pieces about fatherhood, from an older perspective, so bringing it to this college campus, we had to mix canon pieces with our own perspectives in order to make it uniquely our own.”
While the cast is exclusively for males or male-identified folks, the crew can be anybody of any gender identity. Muir College senior Cathy Looc spoke about how her experience working as a Muir House Advisor and showing the film “The Mask You Live In” impacted her and led to her interest in MENding Monologues. Her residents’ reaction to the film, which opens up complex and difficult dialogues about the toxic masculinity imposed on males, left the men in her audience dead silent.
“I joined MENding because the men in my life have shaped me into the woman I am today,” Looc wrote emphatically. “My dad, who was continuously beat by his drunk of a father growing up, hasn’t ever laid a hand on me. My dad taught me that being a man can mean being an excellent cook, actively listening, laughing freely and forgiving.”
The space that MENding provides is “pheno[men]al” in that men are so rarely given the chance to be vulnerable and open with other men. For Looc, the topic of sexual violence and gender norms is one she has already been heavily involved with.
This past year, she organized and led an Alternative Breaks at UCSD spring break service trip to Double Head Cabbage Village, Belize that focused on issues of sexual violence and HIV/AIDS prevention and advocacy. While sexual violence is often viewed and discussed from the female perspective, Looc recognizes the need to find space for a male perspective in order to understand and recognize where the root of violence is — which is just what MENding Monologues does.
“I joined MENding because it is so crucial to have ALL genders included in the advocacy of feminism/gender equality; we must all take the steps to mending our society together,” Looc said.
Abadejos and De Leon expressed the whirlwind ride that directing and producing MENding Monologues has been, but they have a vision for how they want to see it expand. De Leon added that they would love to see MENding Monologues become partners with the Vagina Monologues at UCSD to bring a more inclusive perspective to both sides and both productions. Abadejos agreed that partnerships such as the Women’s Center, Cognitive Assessment and Risk Evaluation at the Sexual Assault Resource Center and the San Diego Center for Community Solutions are important to let both MENders and the community know they have these resources for them.
“It’s really been our baby that we’ve conceived for the last month and a half, and it’s really exciting to think that in the next coming days we’re actually going to see it come into fruition and manifest itself into so many different people’s stories,” Abadejos said excitedly.
The first production of MENding Monologues at UCSD is happening during Week 10 on June 6 to 8 from 7:30 to 10 p.m. at Muir Woods Coffee Shop. Tickets are free of charge and only require Eventbrite registration.