Dear Firecracker Advocates,
Your generosity has allowed us to contract therapists to provide consistent, quality therapy to children, and their families, who have experienced sexual trauma. We now have seven children receiving therapy.
Thank you for the generous spirit you have brought to The Firecracker Foundation’s programs this past year.
You have: stuffed envelopes, attended community events, and been a voice in the community for therapeutic and trauma-sensitive yoga therapy programs. You started a trauma-informed Book Club, organized a Self-Care Drive for child survivors of sexual trauma, and stood in solidarity with survivors in the 2015 Soulfire calendar.
We would like to invite you back to celebrate the blaze you’re building and plan for the year to come. Join us for snacks: March 5th from 6-7pm. Come learn how you can continue to be a part of our mission of honoring the bravery of children who have survived sexual trauma by building a community invested in the healing of their whole being.
This is also an opportunity for those interested in learning more about volunteering or training as an advocate with The Firecracker Foundation. Invite your friends!
Let us know if you’re coming by emailing Katie Livingston at firstname.lastname@example.org
Tashmica ‘Firecracker’ Torok
Founder & Executive Director
I was taught from a very young age to be strong. My mother raised twin daughters and young son on her own for a long time, so I didn’t have that experience of leaning on my father for help. I know him, but he wasn’t really there. I admired my mother’s strength. My sister and I would watch her move from job to job, sometimes two or three at the same time, working long hours, and she’s done such a great job of it. We were never without a home or clothes or food, and somehow she remained strong for us. My mother taught me many things growing up -cooking, cleaning, yard work, etc. – because she had to do it all, and we helped our mom as much as we could. I never really understood until now that maybe she did that so if we were to fall into the same predicament she did, we would be able to take care of ourselves.
There were no tasks in our house that were gender specific. My sister and I took out the trash just like our brothers, and the boys took turns washing dishes. I am proud to say that I know these things because there were a lot of girls on my block back home whose parents did not make them learn. They did not make them prepare to one day be on their own in life, and as a result I guess they felt too good for it. Hard work has made me who I am today. Without my mother instilling in me good work habits and independence, I would probably still be living at home with her and missing out on college.
When I came to Michigan State University, all I wanted to do was be in the theatre program. I’ve loved the stage for as long as I can remember, but it wasn’t until high school that I got into acting. Since performing in my first musical (The Color Purple), I have favored shows that speak to the real troubles of life. Rape violence is a real life issue, and that is why I decided to audition for ‘The Vagina Monologues’ this year. I found the topic so profound because it is one that a lot of people are scared to talk about or avoid all together. As a woman, you have to know about your vagina, as much as you need strength. My mother, aunts and grandmothers taught me everything I know about the female body; young girls won’t know what is going on with themselves if there is not a good female support system giving them know-how. ‘The Vagina Monologues’ appealed to the way I was brought up in that these women whom Eve Ensler wrote about were strong enough to tell their stories so that others can learn from them. Violence toward anyone is wrong, but sometimes young people can’t explain what has happened to them. That is why this show must exist.
I also joined the cast because the play speaks to all types of women’s issues. There are stories of women with insecurities, women who protest against what the world sees as ‘female’, and women who were emotionally abused. I think I’ve fit into either of these categories at one point in my life. I had people even in my own family to put me down, tell me that I wasn’t going to amount to anything, and sometimes I believed them. It took a lot for me to get to the point when I accepted who I was as a person and stopped listening to those outside voices.
The ladies I work with are so strong and devoted to this cause that it makes me want to step up that much more to tell the story of ‘My Short Skirt’. I love my character because she’s strong like my mother and like me. She knows who she is and she refuses to be disrespected. I take a lot of what I put into the role from my mother, and a lot from the power I feel in being a woman. As women, we run the world, no matter what anyone says. There should be a sense of pride in who we are and how far we’ve come in all areas of life, and I truly feel that this is why the Vagina Monologues is necessary.
Kaliyah Jetton is a sophomore studying Journalism and Theatre at Michigan State University. This is her very first production at MSU and she is very excited to be apart of such a wonderful cast. Kaliyah would like to thank the director and production teams for letting her be herself in this role, and all of her new friends for their constant praise and support.
“My dream is that people will find a way back home, into their bodies, to connect with the earth, to connect with each other, to connect with the poor, to connect with the broken, to connect with the needy, to connect with people calling out all around us, to connect with the beauty, poetry, the wildness.” –Eve Ensler
Connection. That’s what the V-Day Movement is about. Connection is what seeing and being apart of The Vagina Monologues is about. All of us are operating in a society that normalizes rape, sexual assault, and degradation. We are connected through the responsibility to change that society. V-Day and The Vagina Monologues show that we have already started the change. Through V-Day, which is “a global activist movement to end violence against women and girls”, The Vagina Monologues was born which works to “raise awareness and funds for anti-violence groups within their own communities.” Steps are being taken by leaders like Tashmica Torok, Laura Swanson, and the cast of The Vagina Monologues to better our society. These women are strong. These women are standing up. These women are saying “No” to a system that doesn’t work and a society which allows that system to continue to fail. We invite you to feel that connection. Meet the women who exemplify the change we want to see in our society.
Tashmica Torok, the founder and executive director of The Firecracker Foundation, is the first beneficiary of “The Vagina Monologues” to also be a cast member of the production. Her monologue is a description of childbirth; the directors of this year’s “The Vagina Monologues”, Laura Swanson and Janelle Moulding, both could not recall a time that the MSU production had an actress who had gone though childbirth before performing this particular monologue. The production is proud to have Tashmica’s own experiences color her performance of and connection with her monologue.
Laura Swanson is one of the directors of the 17th season of The Vagina Monologues. She is a student at Michigan State University studying Telecommunications Media and Information, specializing in Documentary Film. Laura is completely devoted to the empowerment of all. She is the Producer of an award-winning Documentary Film “Every Two Minutes” which showcases the stories of 17 survivors within the Lansing Area community. In November of 2014, Laura was awarded the National iAspire Grant from the Robin McGraw Revelation Foundation and was featured on The Dr. Phil Show for spearheading projects to end sexual violence on U.S. college campuses. She is currently producing her next documentary film regarding Human Trafficking within Michigan. Laura is a supervising advocate with the MSU Sexual Assault Crisis Intervention Team and a Director of The MSU Vagina Monologues. In addition to her advocacy work, Laura is a member of an acoustic all-female band and is developing a Dance Therapy class for survivors of sexual trauma, set to begin March 2015.
The cast members of “The Vagina Monologues” are all passionately devoted to the V-Day Movement in order to stop the sexual assault and violence against girls and women. Each woman in the cast has her own personal reason why this movement is so close to her heart. Some of these brave women have been kind enough to share their thoughts on The Firecracker Foundation’s blog. These women and the rest of the cast are giving their gift of speech to anyone who will listen at the “Meet the Cast” event on February 28. Receive their gift; hear their stories, personal experiences, and reasons for being apart of the V-Day Movement and “The Vagina Monologues”.
Miranda is from Trenton, Michigan, but currently lives in East Lansing, earning an English Major and Theatre Minor at Michigan State University. She is a cast member of “The Vagina Monologues” and couldn’t be more excited to be a part of the important piece. Miranda is fond of volunteering, reading literature, and taking part in MSU’s Wharton Center Student Marketing Organization in her spare time.
Virginia Wolf once infamously said that, “For most of history, Anonymous was a woman.” This is a sentiment that is both quite unfortunate, yet quite true. When I first heard of The Vagina Monologues, like many of you, my curiosity was sparked. But, why? My curiosity was sparked because of the word ‘Vagina’. I mean, it shouldn’t of had that impact on me, considering I have grown up with one, have learned how it functions, and hear synonyms for it every time a rap or pop song comes on, but nonetheless it was a catalyst for a reaction. After hearing about it I began doing research, tons of it. Had I not, I would have been so ignorant and unaware of the its vital cause.
The Vagina Monologues is not just an episodic play that was written by Eve Ensler in the mid 1990s, but it is a production that authentically shares different aspects of the feminine experience. From sex, to rape, menstruation, birth, orgasms, female genital mutilations, and love, the vagina is presented as a tool of female empowerment, and rightfully so. This production enables myself, along with the rest of the cast, to be the median through which these stories of anonymous women can be shared, and more importantly, heard. The most breathtaking thing about it is that although they are not our personal stories, every woman is able to connect to the story of at least one other woman, even is she may be anonymous.
But the Vagina Monologues do not just stop there. This production having been presented in the international arena has helped launch V-Day. For those of you who don’t know, V-Day is a global non-profit movement, one that has raised over $100 million thus far, for groups who have made it their mission to end violence against girls and women. The way the numbers stand now, nearly 70% of women will experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime from an intimate partner. Of all the women killed each year, almost half were killed by an intimate partner and/or family member. And of of the married women today, 700 million were married off when they were just a child.
Sometimes I wonder and marvel at the thought that each women lives her life with a million little stories, and for some, they leave this world with a million little stories. The Vagina Monologues allows for us share some of these stories in hopes of not only touching your hearts, but also touching your minds. That you walk away enlightened, provoked, impassioned, and aware of some of the struggles women, and people, like you have gone through. Whether you personally identify as a woman, came from a woman, or just like women, there is something for you to take away.
It has been said, “Women have been called queens for a long time, but the kingdom given them isn’t worth ruling.” I believe that moving forward in the future, forces, such as the Vagina Monologues, have the power to create a kingdom that is worth ruling. A kingdom where each woman appreciates her unique beauty. Where each woman realizes the abilities she possesses . Where each woman is given the love and respect she deserves. And where women begin to look at each other like the sisters we are. I have been so blessed and fortunate to have been born into the life I was, but that does not mean I shouldn’t fight for my sister counter part that may be on the other side of the world, currently being denied education, or the right to choose whether or not she gets cut. The Vagina Monologues is one avenue that has enabled me to make a dent in this world, and all the women it encapsulates. Maybe one day we will have a world where there isn’t an anonymous.
– Dolores Sinistaj
Originally from Montenegro, Dolores moved to the States when she was young and is from Grosse Pointe, Michigan. She currently is a senior at MSU who is double majoring in Political Theory & Constitutional Democracy and International Relations. When she’s not at rehearsal she is busy with Model UN, and is currently the MSU Senior Class President. She hopes to continue her passion in women and gender studies by pursuing International Law at a law school in DC!
“…At last you’ll know with surpassing certainty that only one thing is more frightening that speaking your truth. And that is not speaking.” -Audre Lorde
It never occurred to me to be anything but a feminist. In the sixth grade, when Hillary Clinton ran for the Senate, I wore “Vote for Hillary!” signs taped to my chest. In college, I created and produced a sex talk show- the college’s first show needing a “Parental Guidance Suggested” warning, because I thought it was important to create a forum for being open and non-judgemental in regards to sexuality. I had never been a part of the Vagina Monologues before and had never seen the entire show. Firecracker had posted about wanting to be a part of it , and we made a pact to be audition buddies.
When people complain about feminists, or talk about how inequality doesn’t exist in regards to gender, first- I want to scream. and tear my hair out in frustration. When I’ve overcome that urge, secondly- I want to educate them. Yes, we have a come a long way, but our battle is far from over. We need to create and promote open communication about sexuality and reproductive health. Currently, not even most our elected officials nationwide understand the mechanics of women’s bodies, let alone enough to encourage a healthy relationship with ones own body. We need to banish the belief that anything can dictate our worth, our ability to take ownership of our desires, or even just our interactions with others- be it the shape and condition of our bodies, or our past experiences. We need to help foster an accepting and healthy environment for discussion. As long as sex is a safe activity between consenting adults, there shouldn’t be any cause for judgement on how those individuals decide to express themselves.
These are things I want to talk about. These are things I get to talk about through the Vagina Monologues, and not only through the show itself, but off stage with the group of amazing, empowering women that I spend my Sundays with. I have seen the show almost every week for the past three months- and I still tear up or cry almost every single time at one point or another while performing or watching others perform. This show has that power. We need to talk about these things. We need to talk about vaginas.
– Alex Bailey
Originally from New York, Alex is a graduate of SUNY Plattsburgh, with a bachelor’s degree in Audio/Radio and Television Production. Currently employed as a Legal Assistant, she devotes her free time to the Lansing Derby Vixens and Sistrum.
“For such a loud culture, I find it interesting that people still speak about the vagina in whispers. It – and everything surrounding it – is reserved for rooms with closed doors and serious undertones as it would be “inappropriate” to have it discussed in public. Things like pubic hair and orgasms and masturbation and sexual violence have no place in daily conversation. When I first saw The Vagina Monologues as a freshman in college, I was one of those people who talked about lady parts like it was a scandal in the making. Then, the last thing I wanted people to think was that I was proud of my vagina and that I wanted to show it to the world – only certain kinds of women showed that kind of enthusiasm, and they were not taken very seriously.
But even though I had been conditioned to think about vaginas in this light, I had questions that needed answering. For some reason I could not explain, I felt a need to reclaim my body.
I went into my first V-Mons show feeling shy, scared and out of place. I left feeling educated, empowered and enlightened. I left feeling like I absolutely needed to be a part of this production that was full of women screaming about vaginas at the top of their voices. And it didn’t stop there: I wanted to talk to everyone about my vagina. I wanted to do everything I could to participate in creating awareness about pubic hair and orgasms and masturbation and, most importantly, sexual violence.
I am enamored with the enthusiasm and strength that radiates from the women who are a part of this production and the women who are advocates within the organization. This movement of women who are passing on the stories of every woman in this way is something that is greatly needed in this world. This movement of women is anything but a whisper. It is a message with vibrations so strong, it will leave an echo in your fingertips.”
– Abby Rudnicki
Abby Rudnicki has been involved in the creative community since she started singing at 8 years old. She is a trained vocalist, a pianist and violinist by trade, and a professional at dabbling with a random assortment of other instruments. She has been heavily involved in theatrical productions throughout high school and college, trying on every hat from acting to stage managing to directing. She graduated from Michigan State University in 2013 with a degree in communication and a focus towards arts administration. She currently works for Eastern Michigan University’s Department of Music & Dance and the Commuity Music School of Ann Arbor. When Abby is not making tons of music or talking about music, she likes cooking, spinning poi, traveling and elephants.
Learn more about MSU’s Vagina Monologues and purchase tickets to the next performance here