When Eve Ensler wrote The Vagina Monologues in 1996, she probably didn’t realize it would become a worldwide phenomenon. The episodic play was originally conceptualized as a celebration of the vagina, including monologues on orgasm and masturbation, but over time and space has become more diverse and inclusive. At the American University of Cairo in Egypt, when two students put on a production in 2006, a cast member wrote that “there is plenty that is relevant and interesting for Egyptians, but I would love to see it adapted into something more culturally relevant” (1). And so the BuSSY Project was born.
The founders began collecting the stories of Egyptian women and directing performances of those stories, most often performed by the authors themselves. This process not only gave women the opportunity to tell their own stories and thus take ownership of their experiences, but in performing them publicly – even in the subway, once – the project broke down a societal silence on otherwise taboo topics.
In 2010, the group made the transition beyond the university and began performing throughout Egypt, eventually offering storytelling workshops in addition to performances. They also expanded the concept of the project, creating space for men to share stories about the impact of masculinity on their lives. That is, rather than addressing only “women’s issues”, BuSSy aims to create a dialogue around many different manifestations of gender – such as through their project ‘500s’ which centers on the lives of Egyptian teenagers.
BuSSy’s growth is a testament to the commitment and creativity of the group: due to the controversial nature of the topics they engage with, they often face difficulty finding spaces to practice and perform, especially since they have stopped self-censoring. In 2015, for example, a scheduled performance of ‘500s’ in the Opera House (a state venue) was cancelled when the theater director read the script and suggested that they substitute “bleep” or “something inappropriate” for certain words, which the group refused to do.
Theatrical production is minimal, as the group does not consider themselves as professional actors: “we are a group of passionate, enthusiastic youth with strong faith in the value and impact of the project” (1). BuSSy, which translates roughly to “look”, actually does much more than invite viewers to simply watch: the group challenges largely unquestioned norms of gender by bringing ‘private’ matters into public space. Performance may be an art, but for BuSSy, it is every bit as much an activism.
Meer dan Muze (‘More Than a Muse’)
On March 8th, International Women’s Day, Mama Cash is organising ‘More Than a Muse’ festival, with 19 venues throughout the Netherlands showcasing female artists of all kinds. You can find the full program at www.meerdanmuze.nl