I’m in Snake Alley… I want to go home… I need to go home… I need… to… go… home…” (Exhaustedly musters up all the energy she has left and inhales deeply) (Lights gradually dim)
That was just one line from the script of the Garden of Hope Foundation’s Taiwanese version of “Vagina Monologues,” which was announced at a press conference on the 20th of April. The script, which will come to life on the stage this year, focuses on the issues of sexual exploitation and sexual assault. It consists of three separated parts: “I’m 9 This Year,” which explores the topic of child prostitution, “The Bartender’s Ballad,” which follows the story of a female bartender serving American soldiers and “Pain Flies Away”, which deals with sexual assault. In spite of its liberal use of black humor, the play offers an accurate depiction of the discrimination that victims face when seeking legal aid and reflects people’s hopes for a fairer judicial system that doesn’t further traumatise the victims.
This year, after 10 years of performing American playwright Eve Ensler’s “Vagina Monologues,” the Garden of Hope Foundation has made the decision to return to its roots by performing a localised, Taiwanese version of the script. Written over the course of 3 years and consisting of 10 uniquely Taiwanese stories, the script was given the title “Shi-Di Episode”. The title is symbolic of the way in which the play picks “up” the life stories of marginalised, oppressed and abused women, thereby “rooting” out the social inequalities and harmful traditional views on women that are deeply ingrained in Taiwanese society. The play features women as its main subjects and focuses on the themes of sexual assault, sexual exploitation and domestic violence.
Guests who were invited to the premiere were left with teary eyes after seeing a dramatic reading of “I’m 9 This Year.” Famous actress Kuei-Mei Yang, who was also at the reading, commended the actress for her professionalism.
From celebrities, professional actors, workers from the the Garden of Hope Foundation to the troup-“Barefoot Alice,” which is developed by GOH, performing “The Vagina Monologues” has been a means of ending violence against women since the Garden of Hope Foundation joined the V-Day Movement in 2005. Performing this piece throughout the years has been a long journey, filled with countless touching stories.
During one performance that left a particularly strong impression, the actors were on stage relating their personal stories. One actor was shouting: “He was a bad person, a horrible person! But mother slapped me and told me to keep my mouth close. When my dad passed away, it felt like a nail that had been rusting in my heart for thirty years had finally been pulled out…” The performance gave many members of the audience the strength and courage to share their own stories about and experiences with abuse, as well as reassuring them that they are not alone with their problems.
Yu-Yin Guo, who is the coordinator of the “Vagina Monologues” project, revealed that coming up with a name for ‘Shi-Di’ (Uproot) was an interesting process: ‘Though in the ten years of performing this play, people have finally become less squeamish about the word ‘vagina,’ we wanted the play to have a distinctly Taiwanese feel to it, and found the title ‘Vagina Monologues’ very limiting. We went through a number of working titles and did a lot of brainstorming before coming up with ‘Uproot.’ Everyone loved the title because of the word’s connotations and because it captured the way in which the play picks ‘up’ the life stories of marginalised, oppressed and abused women and ‘roots’ out the social inequalities and harmful traditional views of women that are deeply ingrained in our society.’
Hui-Jung Chi, the CEO of the Garden of Hope Foundation, reminisced about the year 1993, when the Garden of Hope Foundation united with other organisations to coordinate an event where thousands of people jogged through Snake Alley to oppose child prostitution. It was an appeal to the masses, encouraging people to attach more value of human rights of young girls. The event also played an important role in the renaming of the﹛Child and Youth Sexual Transaction Prevention Act﹜ to the ﹛Child and Youth Sexual Exploitation Prevention Act﹜.
Among the plethora of joggers, Hui-Jung Chi recalled seeing Xin (name has been changed for confidentiality reasons), a young woman who had been rescued by Garden of Hope Foundation in the past. Xin said she had always felt hopelessly alone with her problems, but seeing so many people jogging together and standing up for her on that day swept her loneliness away in an instant!
Hui-Jung Chi explains that Xin was sold into sex slavery when she was in her fifth year of elementary school. When the Garden of Hope Foundation found her, she was around 14-15 years old and had been forced to get an indecent tattoo on her back. Garden of Hope Foundation rescued her and helped her get rid of her tattoo, but Xin had lost all contact with her family and had nobody to turn to for support. It was Xi-Zong Su, a board member of the Garden of Hope Foundation, who helped Xin out of her predicament by offering her a part-time job at his office. The money she saved from her part-time job allowed her to finish her studies and become the independent woman today. The two also became extremely close friends: Even now, Xin still joins Xi-Zong Su and his family for their New Year’s Eve dinner every year.
Actress Kuei-Mei Yang wholeheartedly approved of the idea of women as the play’s main subjects when she first arrived on the stage where “Shi-Di” was performed. She lamented that the East Asian society tends to be very conservative and parents hardly ever talk to their children about sex. She believes, however, that one’s body and physical health are both very important matters and that victims of sexual assault and domestic violence need to speak out after the very first incident in order to prevent subsequent incidents from happening.
Xiu-Yuan Zhang, director of Protection Services at the Ministry of Health and Welfare, stated that there are still three to four thousand cases of child prostitution every year, with both male and female victims, adding that cases of sexual assault range from ten to twelve thousand annually. She believes that everybody should adopt a zero tolerance policy towards domestic violence and stresses the importance of speaking out after an incident of domestic violence has happened, as well as emphasising that the victim is not to be blamed in any way. Xiu-Yuan Zhang believes that “Shi-Di” is a very meaningful and exciting play and hopes that it will be well received by the public.
Josephine, who has been directing the Garden of Hope Foundation’s production of “Vagina Monologues” for ten years, said when women who have fallen victim to abuse took part in the rehearsals, it was as though they regained their identities. Though their bodies sometimes still bore scars and marks from their troubled pasts, these women emanated a radiant shine on stage and Josephine truly believed they will inevitably become real stars one day.
Anile Hao, the playwright of “Shi-Di”, said the three stories presented in the script are all firmly grounded in reality. Because of this, the most difficult part of creating the script wasn’t writing the stories, but looking into their eyes. She was determined not to cry before the characters in her play did.
Hui-Jung Chi concluded by saying that “Shi-Di” aims to educate people on the history of gender equality in Taiwan through drama, as it explores important gender issues and cases that have contributed to equal rights legislations. For example, the play explores the case of Wan-Ru Peng, which paved the way for the ﹛Sexual Assault Crime Prevention Act﹜, the case of Ru-Wen Deng murdering her husband, which led to﹛Domestic Violence Prevention Act﹜, and the case of teenager Yong-Zhi Ye, which necessitated the﹛ Gender Equity Education Act﹜. Hui-Jung Chi hopes the powerful performances will empower women and shed some light on the importance of their role in Taiwan’s history.