that's Beijing 3-2009
What Does Your “V” Have to Say?
Exclusive interview: Wang Chong, director of the Chinese premiere of The Vagina Monologues
Written By Vera Penêda
A pioneering performance of the internationally acclaimed play The Vagina Monologues is finally hitting the stage in Beijing. The stories feature the vagina as a tool of female empowerment and discuss ‘touchy’ subjects.
And after arousing controversy across the world, they have finally been given the green light to enter the mainland. Wang Chong, a 27-year-old Beijing-born Chinese is the director behind the first professional run of the play here in China. Bold and unreserved, the V. artist (as he sometimes calls himself), gave that’s Beijing an exclusive interview about theater, women and what their V’s have to say.
that’s: What made you think of producing The V Monologues?
Wang Chong: I like avant-garde theatre, I prefer edgy stuff. The V Monologues might not give a director much creative leverage, but its topic is provocative. I co-directed the play with a classmate when I was studying theater in the US. Then I thought, what about staging it in Beijing? I decided to translate the text and finally bought the rights to direct it.
that’s: How do you feel about directing the Chinese Mainland professional premiere of the play after the 2004 ban that prevented its debut in Shanghai and Beijing?
Wang: Everyone in the theater business knows about the play and its veto, and that’s why few dared to take it on. But I believe challenges and risks are what experimental theater is all about. I’m extremely enthusiastic about this show. I’m more wise than brave, though, and I’ve decided to change the Chinese title into “V Dubai”, which reads as V Monologue in Chinese. In China, things should be handled Chinesely.
that’s: Why do you think the authorities have finally allowed The V Monologues? Was it difficult to get permission to bring it to Beijing and to stage it in Mandarin?
Wang: There are the formal limitations and there’s a gray area in the official procedures for permission. I should say I’ve done a lot of work to make the performance acceptable without changing a lot of the original script.
that’s: Were you entirely faithful to the original text or did you alter it here and there?
Wang: If this had been a classic, I would have betrayed the master copy big time. But for a premiere, I decided to stick to the original script. The Chinese translation and cultural background forced me to modify some parts. Chinese women’s sexuality is very different from their American counterparts. I had to re-write the monologue, expounding on the word “cunt”, using the Chinese word “bi”, a slur similar to “cunt” in the Beijing dialect. It was impossible to translate all the different words used for “cunt” in the original script, such as, cavern, cackle, clit, cute, come-closed c-closed inside, inside ca-then u-then cu-then curvy...
that’s: The discussion of female sexuality is not a popular topic in China and some regard it as a cultural phenomenon imported from abroad. Will bringing this subject to light have an impact?
Wang: In fact, Chinese literature has many sexual references and every bedside table in the country has had a copy of Jinpingmei (The Plum in the Golden Vase, the first full-length Chinese fictional work to depict sexuality in a graphically explicit manner). But female literature focusing on female sexuality didn’t prevail until the 1990s. I think The V Monologues is even more in your face and politically correct than others, because the theater is an interactive form of art; a quasi-public forum. This play is a humorous yet serious discussion that examines female sexuality from a feminist viewpoint.
that’s: Eve Ensler’s play also stirred up a wave of cultural shocks outside China when it tried to probe in public taboo subjects like orgasm, menopause, sexual abuse and rape. Will China discuss these topics more openly?
Wang: Chinese people are already discussing all these things in bars, at dinner tables, and on the Internet. We have to hash out these topics in order to make them cultural-shock-proof.
that’s: As Chinese mainland celebrates the 30th anniversary of Reform and Opening Up, The V Monologues arrives in the country. Is this a coincidence?
Wang: With Chinese mainland’s steady opening toward the outside world over the past generation we had ‘body-writing’ in the 90’s and now the time has come for The V Monologues, after being performed in more than 120 countries.
that’s: Is there a specific monologue or part of a monologue that you prefer?
Wang: No, I can’t choose a specific one because each single story is absolutely great.
that’s: How does it feel to direct a play written by a woman, about women, mostly for women?
Wang: To keep it simple… I love women, just as Sun Yat Sen did and most men do. Honestly, I learned a lot about women by working on this play, just as Eve Ensler herself learned a lot about the female world when conducting the 200 interviews that inspired the script. I believe both men and women can find out a lot from The V Monologues.
that’s: Did you discuss this play with your mother, wife or girlfriend to get female feedback?
Wang: My girlfriend is very supportive about it. My old mother regards the play as too racy and is worried about the show, but I think she will change her mind after watching it.
that’s: From your perspective…how do women feel about their vaginas?
Wang: They think their vagina is a dangerous organ and a troublesome burden that bleeds every month. But they shouldn’t think of their V in such terms and, hopefully, the play will change their mind and offer a new perspective.
that’s: As a man, what comes to your mind when you hear the word “vagina”?
Wang: It should make me think about sex, but it doesn’t. This is probably because the word is seldom used and is less sexy than “bed” for example.
that’s: How would you describe a V?
Wang: It’s… vaginal.
that’s: Which one of the words used to describe “vagina” in the play is your favorite? Why?
Wang: “My vagina is a shell, a tulip, and a destiny. I am arriving as I am beginning to leave. My vagina, my vagina, me.” It’s absolutely beautiful.
that’s: What is the most important message of V Dubai?
Wang: Women ought to be proud of their vaginas.
that’s: Do you think Chinese audiences will enjoy the play?
Wang: Definitely. In Chinese mainland, the play has already been staged in English in several cities. It has also been a success in the South part of the country, where several college student groups performed it in Mandarin.
that’s: Tell readers why they should go and watch the The V Monologues.
Wang: Well, everybody that loves women should go and see it. This show is really about discovering what women are really like.