UW-Madison officials are investigating claims that a small group of students briefly disrupted last Saturday’s Downtown performance of “The Vagina Monologues” by pounding on a window and making a lewd gesture while standing outside the theater.
Actors in the play asked for a public apology from a sorority, Kappa Alpha Theta, whose members were filing out of a bus and in the area near the Brink Lounge, 701 E. Washington Ave., when the disturbance occurred.
“It came at the absolute worst moment, when women were putting themselves out there and telling stories of real pain and violence,” said Aliza Feder, a UW-Madison senior theater major who was part of the cast.
It’s not clear that the people who disturbed the play are part of the sorority, said Kevin Helmkamp, associate dean of students. The university is seeking more details via twin investigations through a judicial board governing Greek life on campus and a university committee on student organizations.
Students could be held accountable for poor behavior even though the event took place off campus, he said. Sanctions would likely involve required education about the impact of bad behavior on the community, he said.
It’s also unclear whether they knew it was a performance of “The Vagina Monologues,” the popular play by Eve Ensler about women’s empowerment. It features intimate stories that are often considered taboo.
Liz Rinck, spokeswoman for the national sorority, said the group has launched a “full investigation” and wouldn’t comment further. Sarah Monette, UW-Madison chapter president, declined comment.
The disturbance came toward the end of a Saturday night performance that was part of a three-show weekend run held as a fundraiser for UNIDOS Against Domestic Violence, a Madison-based nonprofit that aids Latinos and immigrants.
The show was held in the basement of Brink Lounge. Near the end, a bus parked on East Washington Avenue let out members of the sorority for their spring formal to be held in a basement lounge adjacent to the theater space. A large window forms part of the back wall of the theater fronting East Washington Avenue.
The majority of sorority members walked by without incident, Feder said. One woman allegedly starting pounding on the window as the scripted portion of the play was concluding, she said. After a brief lull, other young men and women joined, with most pounding on the window and one woman briefly lifting up her skirt, she said. In total about five people were part of the disturbance, she said.
The second part of the disturbance came during the final scene of the play when actors step to a microphone one by one and share personal, unscripted stories of their own experiences with sexual violence, Feder said. Some spoke in English. Others spoke in Spanish.
The women continued their monologues despite the disturbance and the audience, estimated to be about 60-70 people, kept its focus on their words, Feder said.
Matt Brink, general manager of the lounge, said he wasn’t there the night it happened and staff didn’t become aware of it until later in the night. He apologized to the group before its Sunday performance. He said a Kappa Alpha Theta sorority representative contacted him to check security footage and identify who was making the gestures but the cameras are pointed inward toward the establishment.
Anne Fischer, who produced the play, said Brink Lounge has been very supportive of the performance before and since the incident, saying management did “a wonderful job.”
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