“Wait, you plug your vagina shut with toilet paper too?”
“Same, I just could NOT put a tampon in either!”
“Me too, my boobies get so tender!”
“I do that too!”
It’s Spring 2019, and we’ve been learning a lot about each other lately. We’re creating a new play to premiere at the Ottawa Fringe Festival, and this one is pretty personal and vulnerable for us — it’s about periods.
Yeah, it’s scary! We’re feeling like, “ahh!”
But something in us knows that this is the topic we should explore for our next play. Ever since fall of 2018, when we had first started talking about this idea, the stories have been leaking out of us.
And yes, we mean leaking — because at first, the stories emerged in more of a dribble. Although we’ve become close friends since we created our company together in 2016 and we’ve already created some very vulnerable plays together — our part-play-part-magic-show The Brotherhood tackles sexism in the entertainment industries, and our charming psychic sister romp In Waking Life was Monica’s first experience with the vulnerability of improv — talking about our periods together feels entirely new. Because we’ve never talked about them with anybody. We’re embarrassed, shy, even scared to speak our period truths. But once the leaking starts… it’s not long before the floodgates open, and the stories, jokes, and memories begin to flow.
It turns out, we have a lot of similar fears and stories. Leaked all over a chair and pretended it wasn’t me? Um, definitely yes. Plug my vagina with toilet paper when I don’t have a period product? Yes! Waited for everyone to leave the school bathroom before ripping open a pad that feels like it was designed to be fire alarm levels of loud? I do that too!
These “I do that too!” moments are suddenly and entirely changing the way we think about our periods. Not only are we realizing how many of our experiences are shared, but we’re also finding the freedom and comfort to laugh about our stories together, which is very new for us.
We’re spending hours talking about our leaks, pains, stains, and more. We’re spending even more hours researching, and gathering so much information about periods, vulvas, vaginas, and menstrual equity. We’re learning — a lot.
We start writing jokes, songs, inventing a game, and choreographing a dance. And, the scariest part, we select some of our own most embarrassing period stories to confess on stage. A Period Piece is ready for the Ottawa Fringe.
“I’m gonna shit myself!” we whisper to each other. Which, one of us currently being on our period, is entirely possible.
It’s June 2019 and we’re backstage at LabO in Ottawa, about to perform A Period Piece for the first time. Although talking about our experiences with each other has felt incredibly freeing, we have no idea how an audience will respond. We’re scared.
The show begins and we tell our stories, sing our songs, make jokes, and play games. We also talk leaks, stigma, stats, and menstrual equity. It’s a bloody celebration — of blood! And we’re met with the most incredible audience that is just bursting to laugh, learn, and listen.
We get to the end of the play, and it’s time to take a risk. We open the floor to our audience, inviting them to share their personal period stories if they feel comfortable. We’re fully expecting nobody to do so.
To our surprise, hand after hand goes up. So many people are eager to share — too many, even. There are more stories than we have time to hear! This theatre full of strangers of all genders is suddenly a room of best friends at a sleepover. And the air is filled with our favourite phrase — “I do that too!”.
Show after show, audience after audience, we’re getting the same reaction. Throughout the entire run, audiences enthusiastically share their embarrassing leak stories, special first period memories, and hilarious period sex experiences. In one performance, audience members share tips on how to use menstrual cups. Another night, folks educate us on the experience of menopause. It’s incredible to see our audiences rally together, and have this open and honest conversation — in a theatre, of all places!
These shared stories bring more than just laughter. We’re sharing meaningful moments, finding consolation and community in one another. In one particularly impactful moment, an audience member reveals that they’ve recently discovered a large cyst on their ovary. It’s been there for years, but they’ve always been told that the pain they were feeling was “just cramps” and “normal.” They tell the rest of the audience that if they’d seen this show sooner, they might have known their extreme pain was not normal and gone to the doctor. But nobody talks about periods, or the normal expectations for period pain.
With every performance and post-show beer-tent chat, it’s becoming clearer that this conversation is desperately needed. Folks are coming back again and again, bringing their mothers, their sisters, their partners. Regardless of gender or experience, people are eager to listen to stories and talk about periods.
Opening these conversations with each other and our audiences has allowed us to start shaking off increasingly large pieces of the shame we carry surrounding our bodies. Suddenly, our period stories don’t feel so scary anymore. These conversations are feeling more and more normal, which is making our experiences with our periods feel more and more normal too. We realize how important it is to continue this conversation beyond this festival.
And, as we hoped, the meaningful conversations didn’t stop in 2019.
In February 2022, we released a video series based on A Period Piece: 10 bite-sized videos adapted from the original play, with some updates. Fun, playful, and — most importantly — free edutainment content to keep the conversation going forever.
Don’t get us wrong — although periods are now one of our favourite things to talk about with pretty much any and everyone we meet, it’s still scary to release these videos onto the world wide web. Internet people are going to know we leak! Our tampon woes are plastered online — permanently. But through the process of creating and performing this show, we’ve learned it feels better to choose to feel empowered by our truths — even the embarrassing ones. Because we’ve found that most of the time, we’re met with an enthusiastic, “yes, me too!”
There’s been a lot of progress in the conversations surrounding menstruation since we first created this show in 2019. Students in the Ottawa Carleton District School Board pushed for free menstrual products in schools, and in January 2021, they won. The Canadian government committed to creating a menstrual equity fund. Yet, the conversation around menstruation hasn’t changed: shame and misinformation still dominate the conversation surrounding our bodies and what they do, and talking about it is still as important as ever.
Creating and sharing this show has not only brought us plenty of healing; it has also helped us come to recognize so much about our own privilege when it comes to periods. We are both white, cisgender, middle-class, non-religious, able-bodied women who have always had access to the products we need. Though the pressure of periods has always loomed throughout our lives, we grew up with relatively little inherent shame about our periods and bodies.
We still have much more to learn when it comes to experiences outside of our own. Having the opportunity to talk about periods with so many people has helped us to not only accept and feel empowered by our own experiences, but to learn and grow with a deeper understanding of the experiences of others as well.
Looking back at 2019 Lauren and Monica, we of course had our big scary fears about how A Period Piece (and our own embarrassing experiences shared within it) would be received. But in the end, art of course did what it always does best — it offered us the chance to connect, heal, learn, feel seen.
Through this journey, we’ve experienced more “I do that too!”s than we ever knew we needed.