Since talking to strangers about sex is part of her job, Jennifer Vanderschaeghe, the executive director of the Central Alberta AIDS Network, is used to being bold.
But turning 40 has made Vanderschaeghe more fearless still.
Not only is Vanderschaeghe still professionally preaching safe sex, she’s also become a regular skier after recently losing 113 pounds (51 kg).
Now she’s set to talk publicly about vaginas as a cast member of Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues — which is being performing at Red Deer’s Memorial Centre on Saturday, Feb. 9, for the seventh year as a fundraiser for the AIDS network.
“It was something I felt I needed to do,” said Vanderschaeghe, who grew up a “theatre geek” but hasn’t faced any stage lights in 20 years. “I guess I was always a person who wants to be a little wild and this is another way to be wild . . . I get to say the word ‘vagina’ more than most women do” — possibly in a lifetime.
Vanderschaeghe admitted, “I’ve had an unusual last couple of years,” having recently lost her father to cancer around the time she hit a milestone birthday.
She set her mind on weight loss, and then learning to ski, because “I was getting older and I thought if I’m ever going to do this, it would be now.”
By taking on the Vagina Workshop speech in Ensler’s Monologues, Vanderschaeghe feels she’s stepping out on stage and outside her comfort zone for a good cause: She’s helping remove a stigma from discussions about female anatomy and sexuality.
Just as importantly, this year’s The Vagina Monologues is drawing attention to continued violence against women — particularly in patriarchal cultures.
Ensler recently wrote a special monologue dealing with the horrific gang rapes of young women in India that sparked widespread demonstrations demanding change in attitudes towards women.
“We didn’t realize she was going to write it — and I’m sure Eve Ensler didn’t realize it either” until the recent high-profile crimes were committed, said Vanderschaeghe.
Two other bold Red Deer women are delivering this new monologue — Melody Stang and Kayla Williams of The Dirrty Show. The duo, who just released a CD, are known for singing comic ditties about sex acts. “They already sing provocative songs about women’s bodies and masturbation” so were a natural choice,” said Vanderschaeghe, with a chuckle.
Stang said she and Williams are used to dealing with sexuality in a funny way. But when it comes to violence against women, she believes it’s good to speak up and get serious. “It’s an important topic and needs to be talked about more. Any help we can give to spread awareness, we are happy to give it.”
The Dirrty Show will entertain with some tunes before The Vagina Monologues begins.
Stang and Williams join this year’s cast, including Vanderschaeghe, local realtors Darlis Bachusky and Stephanie Walsh, three Canadian World Youth program students from Nicaragua, Montreal and Vancouver, and many others.
Vanderschaeghe is aiming to raise $8,000 from the performance to fund programs for vulnerable women, particularly sex workers in Red Deer. It’s vital that the annual network fundraiser continues to be a success, she added, because “it really impacts what we can do.”
Doors to the Memorial Centre open at 7 p.m. The Dirrty Show will perform from about 7:15 to 7:45 p.m., and The Vagina Monologues begin at 8 p.m. Tickets are $30 from the Black Knight Ticket Centre.