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Fighting Domestic Violence--On Stage

Wilton resident Jill Jaysen directs two benefit performances of "The Vagina Monologues' to help make a difference.

Eve Ensler’s award-winning play, The Vagina Monologues, is returning to the Westport Country Playhouse this weekend with a unique Wilton connection—this staging is springing from the creative brainpower of Wilton resident Jill Jaysen. Jaysen is directing the two benefit performances that run this Sunday.

The Vagina Monologues is a play by Eve Ensler, and it is often produced as part of the global V-Day campaign, an effort dedicated to generating broader attention and funds to stop violence against women and girls. When it comes to the content and purpose of the show, power is the operative word for Jaysen.

“Domestic violence is all about power—taking away someone else’s power, being disempowered to leave, being disempowered to help someone else,” Jaysen says. “These women in the production are being empowered in doing these roles, and they get to help further the idea of regaining power, of not being victims. And the audience gets to be empowered to help in so many ways.”

Jaysen has taken a unique angle at the way she’s cast the show. All of the performers are from nearby towns in Connecticut, mostly from Fairfield County. Several of the women are first time-performers, and few are professional actors.  

Part of Jaysen’s joy in working with unknowns, many of whom don’t have extensive dramatic training, she says, is “getting them to feel and be the parts they are portraying on stage, and to step outside of their comfort zones in taking risks with something new.” And it’s a journey of empowerment they experience and help the audience experience as well.

“It’s not the [usual] celebrities, like Julia Roberts or Joanne Woodward,” she says. “When you take women who are not professionals up on stage without paper script in hand, when they are authentically living it…they’re not ‘acting’ it. The audience can relate to these unknown women, and recognize, ‘That’s me. That was me 20 years ago, I compromised myself.’ It’s that connection we want them to make.”

Of the proceeds from the two Sunday afternoon performances, 90 percent will benefit The Domestic Violence Crisis Center, the only domestic violence agency serving Stamford, Norwalk, Westport, Darien, New Canaan, Wilton and Weston. The remaining 10 percent raised will go to V-Day’s City of Joy, Earthquake Victims in Haiti.

Jaysen was moved to direct a production of The Vagina Monologues after seeing it performed a few years ago, and says she saw the potential impact in the message of the show.

“If you can change the way even just one person is thinking in the audience, then you have done something extraordinary,” Jaysen says. “Not only are we doing something for charity, we’re doing something where in the audience there’s going to be someone like I was, who wants to also do it in their community. Or there’s someone who wants or needs help themselves. Maybe they’ll feel like they’re not alone. Maybe it’s to help a friend. Whatever it is...Maybe someone sees it and says, ‘I want to go volunteer for the DVCC and help these women and children.’”

Having an impact is a personal mission for Jaysen.

“I’m always driven by the fact that my sister passed away ten years ago from breast cancer. When something like that happens, you say, ‘To really celebrate her life, what can I do that if I die tomorrow, I know I’ve made a difference?’ So I’m always drawn to projects that can make a difference. This play and this experience in such a huge way makes a difference, in both the lives of the women who are performing and the people in the audience. And the women and children benefiting from the money we raise.”

The two benefit performances of The Vagina Monologues will run Sunday, April 3, at 1 PM and 5PM at the Westport Country Playhouse. Tickets are $25, $35 and $50. To purchase tickets, call the box office at 203.227.4177 or visit www.westportplayhouse.org. The Vagina Monologues are presented by The Center Stage Theatre Company and directed by Jill Jaysen.

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