A few weeks ago, a co-worker mentioned that a friend was throwing a party for her 13-year-old daughter. The occasion? Her first period. "How embarrassing!" gasped one colleague. "I'd kill my mother if she did that!" exclaimed another. Indeed, for most of us gals, a visit from Aunt Flo is hardly a cause for celebration. I mean, what does this teenager have to look forward to, anyway? Cramps? Getting caught without a tampon? Or--holy hormones!--PMS?
"The rest of the world just doesn't get it," sighs Signe Harriday of Mama Mosaic, a women's performance collective that's premiering The Menstruation Project--an interdisciplinary piece featuring video, dance, visual art, poetry, and prose--this weekend at Intermedia Arts. "They think when women are [having] their periods that we're crazed psychopaths, that we should take a week off from society. In some cultures, women are sent to a hut because they're considered too powerful when they're having their period."
Okay, guys--before you go turning the page, thinking this article has nothing to do with you, think again. "Men have cycles too," says Harriday. "We share this world together. Besides, this is information men need. They need to know about their mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters."
And, as it turns out, so do women, no matter our experience with the monthly monster. Harriday, along with collaborators Shá Cage, Jeany Park, and Amy Anderson, began creating the piece by interviewing 30 women representing a cross section of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, economic status, geography, age, and occupation. "Women's experiences are very peculiar," observes Harriday. "Your culture, your upbringing, everything has to do with how you perceive menstruation."
These various perspectives combine to create a piece that's part Sex in the City and part slumber party, with a distinct third-wave-feminist spin. Video clips of the interviews will frame the work, but the performers are digging into their personal observations and reactions to shape the stories told, creating a composite view of a life turned topsy-turvy once a month.
For Laurie Carlos, director, dramaturg, choreographer, and manager of The Menstruation Project, the work also exemplifies a new era for women's voices in theater. "I'm 52 years old and everyone's talking about change of life," says Carlos, who also serves as literary manager for Penumbra's Cornerstone Project for young writers. "No one used to speak about these things when I was growing up, although I think women have always had the power to do so. Ancient dialogues are back on the table again. When [the members of Mama Mosaic] said this is what we want to talk about, [we] didn't try to talk [ourselves] out of it. The show may not cover everyone's concerns, but will embrace some. If you are creating at the core of your artistic vehicle, you cannot please the audience all the time." Halliday agrees, acknowledging that works like Eve Ensler's The Vagina Monologues have helped pave the way. Still, she adds, it would be "so presumptuous to say that this [openness] started in the last 10 or 20 years--my foremothers would kick me in the ass for that!"
And so, Mama Mosaic will delve into just a few of the millions of perspectives about menstruation; debunk some myths, like the one about how standing on your head helps lessen the flow; and offer up a surprising insight--that few women, if offered the chance, would give up their periods. "It's part of who you are," says Halliday. "It's like, my siblings drive me crazy sometimes, but the thought of losing them is mortifying."
Menstruation, she concludes, "is so fundamental to how we live, breathe, and die. And it's really beautiful when women's cycles sync up. Talk about women's power! Coming to this show will be like that--it's a phenomenon for women, like linking cycles. We're linking our stories."