Keri Johnson performs in the final rehearsal for “The Vagina Monologues.” After a two-year absence from the Gainesville community, “The Vagina Monologues” comes back for a highly anticipated week of performances. Keri and the 17 other actresses will give three shows throughout the week of Valentine’s Day — all three sold out the week before opening night on Feb. 11. Photos by Maria Correa.

This February, the “V” in V-Day doesn’t stand for “valentine.”

“‘V’ stands for ‘victory,’ for ‘violence,’ for ‘vagina,’ you know – fill in the ‘V’ word,” said Keri Johnson, 27. Johnson, a University of Florida graduate student, will be directing this year’s production of “The Vagina Monologues.”

Described by Johnson as a collection of monologues about the experience of being female, the show is a staple of V-Day, a global campaign to raise awareness about ending violence against women.

Activism is hardly limited to a single day or month of a year, but V-Day is typically celebrated on Feb. 14 and in the days leading up to it. Adhering to tradition, “The Vagina Monologues” will be shown at The Hippodrome Theatre on Feb. 11, Feb. 12 and Feb. 14.

Johnson has been involved with other productions of “The Vagina Monologues” in the past, but is trying her hand at directing it for the first time this year.

The UF student organization that usually coordinates it, Victory Over Violence, was unable to follow through on the project last year. Johnson was determined to bring the show back to Gainesville, but she is not affiliated with Victory Over Violence and has been leading the production independently from them.

Johnson found that being able to step up and take the reins on a project nobody else was willing or able to handle allowed her some leeway to try something new: namely, pulling the production away from the university and focusing on the wider Gainesville community.

“Having it at the university kind of shrinks our audience,” she said.

This year, Johnson and her production crew did a call to all local Gainesville artists to donate any ‘vagina-oriented’ art that is personally significant as, Johnson said, “an abstract way of the healing process of femininity, of being a woman, of the vagina itself.”

The hour before the show, audience members will be able to browse the Hippodrome’s art gallery and enjoy some food donated from local restaurants.

“It’s going to be a whole event – not just about the 90 minutes of the performance, but a whole evening,” she said.

Johnson said that all proceeds will be funneled into Peaceful Paths, a rape and domestic violence crisis center serving Alachua, Bradford and Union Counties.

Peaceful Paths executive director Theresa Beachy is looking forward to the production. The show celebrates and encourages open discussion about women’s issues, delivering a message is very much in line with the mission of Peaceful Paths. Beachy believes that silence is one of the biggest contributing factors to the continuing social blight of domestic violence.

“People are shamed into not talking about it,” she said. “As a society we don’t want to talk about it because it’s a difficult situation to deal with.”

Alachua County’s population is the largest in the tri-county area served by Peaceful Paths; between the three counties, there are about 2,000 arrests for domestic violence crime each year.

“Alachua County was identified several years ago as one of the counties with the top five highest rates of domestic violence homicide in the state of Florida,” she said. “We are working very hard to create a coordinated community response to the issue.”

Like Johnson, Beachy stressed the importance of community in the process of recovery and of raising awareness.

“The community support aspect is vital,” Beachy said. “Creating those communities and giving people the chance to start talking about it make a huge difference in their ability to have long-term recovery from the emotional scars.”

She has seen countless women return to abusive relationships simply because they felt they had no other option. In many cases, a support network can make all the difference and help these women safely free themselves.

Either way, individual recovery is a tricky thing to try and quantify, so Beachy and the staff at Peaceful Paths measure success differently.

“We judge success by how many women say that they feel safer when they leave us than they did when they came,” Beachy said.

With community being such a vital aspect of recovery, it’s important that the “The Vagina Monologues” welcomes the entirety of Gainesville.

Hosting the event at The Hippodrome seems to be helping with that as tickets sold out a week before opening night. The production’s success can only bode well for future attempts. Johnson is hoping to stick around Gainesville next year and help the community continue its participation in V-Day.
“It’s been a really monumental experience for me every year I’ve been involved in it,” she said.