When Sara Juli has a problem — one of those big-picture problems, like “How do I navigate an inter-faith relationship while having a traditional family?” or “How can my spouse and I handle shared finances without anxiety?” — she makes a dance about it.
“It helps me move past it,” Juli says. These issues are common, of course, but Juli believes that putting them on stage and working through them with dance, monologues, songs, props, and a healthy dose of audience participation, yields a certain kind of magic.
So, after Juli gave birth to her second child and suddenly lost control of her bladder functionality, she knew she’d have to stage a show about it. The result is “Tense Vagina: An Actual Diagnosis,” a solo show that reveals “all that is awesome and all that sucks” about motherhood. Juli brings the show to 3S Artspace on April 1-2.
Juli is not shy about tackling difficult topics, from sex and relationships to faith and money. But she said motherhood, and the challenges and triumphs that come with it, can be especially hard to talk about, particularly the physical toll giving birth takes on a woman’s body.
“I noticed the cultural behaviors — (mothers) turn all our attention to the child and we neglect our own bodies,” she says. There is no end of articles about losing weight and “getting your pre-baby body back.” But for Juli, as she experienced postpartum depression, loneliness, and urinary incontinence, there was little in the way of support and resources.
“They fail to tell you that your vagina is left completely dead (following birth) … and you’re left going, ‘Oh, look at this baby, it’s wonderful!’” she says.
Juli began working on “Tense Vagina” in earnest two years ago after she and her family moved from New York City to Maine. A doctor referred her to the Pelvic Floor Rehab Center of New England, and her diagnosis formed the basis of the show.
“It’s so awkward, so bizarre, so out there, but so healing and empowering,” she says. “I have monologues where I take the audience through the depths of the treatment, and its coupled with the isolation, the sadness, the humor, the awkwardness, all that’s ridiculous about being a mother.”
Juli has been performing professionally as a solo artist for the last 16 years, and, by day, runs an arts consulting business. But it’s on stage, she says, where she finds some of her greatest rewards.
“After performances, I get people coming up to me and say, ‘Either you read my diary, you read my mind, or you and I are the same person,’” she says. “I make art for myself because I’m an artist and I need to, but I also make art to connect with others. … It’s one of the reasons I believe in the power of live performances.”