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Performance Tue Feb 11 2014

The Penis Monologues Takes the Other Side

Thumbnail image for MESSIAH EQUIANO.jpg

If penises could talk, what would they say? How would they say it?

In Messiah Equiano's The Penis Monologues, they have plenty to say; with topics that address a variety of subjects from promiscuity to STDS to commitment-phobia to interracial dating, the show, a "direct response" to The Vagina Monologues, is designed to highlight the male experience featuring universal issues that affect men from all backgrounds.

Here, the director and playwright talks about the show, challenges he faced, and what he has learned along the way.

The show is your answer to Eve Ensler's super popular The Vagina Monologues. As you began to prepare, what were your thoughts?

Well obviously, The Vagina Monologues has been a long, outstanding production that's been touring all around the world. For me, as a playwright, filmmaker, producer and a writer, especially, I'm all about pushing the envelope and taking things to the next level. But also, I'm a student of the game, and I've been seeing over the past few years that there have been a lot of movies that are trying to get women to understand men, especially after Steve Harvey's book [Act Like a Lady] Think Like A Man and how it turned into a successful film. I wanted to do something that was edgy and different. I felt it would be good to do The Penis Monologues and I'm giving a very unique and different approach to it. So that's where the idea came from--to be a response to The Vagina Monologues, especially at this time where you have all these films that have women want to think like men. I want to show how the penis is thinking.

Describe the format of the show--did you write all of the monologues?

Yes, I wrote them all. But the different aspect of this show is that it isn't just monologue driven; you have these monologues intertwined with skits, and you have men performing monologues and women who act them out.

What was the process of casting and selecting the men like?

For the first run, I selected the guys who I've been running with for the past three years. I know them, they know me, they're familiar with my style, and I'm familiar with them. I thought it would be a challenge for all of us; it's very heavily monologue driven so you have to be able to command that stage. I originally posed this as a challenge to them--this is something that's different--it's fresh, new, and it's something we haven't done. That was the initial process with casting the men.

You successfully got men to come on board for this show in a society that says men don't like to "talk" or that they don't get "emotional." Was that among your thoughts as you got to work on this project?

That's absolutely right. That's what society says--that we don't talk. And that's exactly what I wanted to do. I wanted to talk about those issues that are generally swept under the rug. For instance, one of the [monologue] topics is molestation. If a woman or a girl is molested or raped, of course it's a serious problem, but on the other hand, if a little boy is touched by his babysitter, it's almost like it's a "cool" thing. These are the things that obviously affect men and their psyche. But molestation is just one of the topics; we [also] touch on ways to see if a man is on the "down low" and why some black men only date white women. These are topics that I know women want to know. Even if I don't answer them, I wanted to at least touch on them.

Did you learn anything throughout the creative process?

I learned that my experiences aren't just my experiences. They are a whole lot of men's experiences. And I learned that in rehearsing; some of the actors would pull me to the side and say, "Man, this same situation happened to me."

Which "same situation?"

We were rehearsing and I gave the script to one of the actors and during the table read, there is a point in the script where we talk about masturbation and the character's first time seeing ejaculation. At that moment, as a teenage boy, he thought something was wrong--he thought he broke something. One of my actors pulled me to the side and said, "Whoa, I thought I was the only person that thought that!" But that was also my experience. A lot of this is my story but I'm finding that the more and more we do this, a lot of men are sharing this with me. Even audience members have shared this with me. It's been a pretty interesting ride thus far. [Laughs].

Were you ever concerned about the title of the show? If so, in what way(s)?

Honestly, the name throws a lot of people off and I've learned that "vagina" is more accepted than "penis." People can see "Vagina Monologues" on fliers all day and it's fine but I've had people shove fliers back in my face. I've had people refuse to accept ones that say "The Penis Monologues." And even with establishments that I frequent, I've put fliers in them and I go back the next day and they're gone. I'm really learning that people are finicky about different things. It just seems that in society, we are more willing to accept [the term] "vagina" than we do "penis"--not that there is anything wrong with that--but I think it's a very interesting situation.

What do you want audience members to take away from The Penis Monologues experience?

I want you to walk away with a totally different theater experience. I want this to be something that stands out in your mind. It's very audience interactive and it's real. I want you to walk away from it saying you've never seen anything like this because it really is a one of a kind show. And everybody on this planet Earth, unless they are here by Immaculate Conception, is here in some way, shape, or form because of a penis!

~*~

See The Penis Monologues this Saturday, Feb. 15, at the DuSable Museum of African American History, 740 E. 56th Pl. Doors open at 6:30pm; show time is at 7pm. Tickets are $25-$40; for more information, call 815-669-0224.

Photo: Messiah Equiano.

 
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Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

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