This was awesome to discovery yesterday morning and when I called just now to see if any of the extra seats they’d released were left, I was told they too had gone. So on Sunday night we will have a full house which for an actor is a wonderful feeling. When you stand up on that stage, with all the preparation you’ve done, all the presence you’re bringing, knowing that there are people there ready to go on a journey with you is half the battle.
There’s a rule of thumb where a show will only be cancelled if there’s the same number of audience as there is cast. So it only takes one more person to take their seat for a show to go ahead. I’ve been in a play where there was a cast of seven and we had heard that there were only seven people in the audience. At the last minute, an eighth audience member walked in and took his seat and with a sigh of resignation the stage manager gave us the OK to start the show. There is not much more sad than a sizeable cast on a stage and a tiny audience.
Theatre is magic. It’s an incredible privilege as an actor to take the audience on a journey. It’s a sacred thing for an audience member to suspend their disbelief and allow an actor to embody a story and to take them places that they may never have been before – even to very uncomfortable places. The power is of course in the imagination of the audience. The actor and writer make suggestions, the audience create the picture, each one with different nuances but glorious nonetheless.
So on Sunday night, we will hold space for the words of the Eve Ensler to take the audience to places that may make them laugh, or cry, or feel uncomfortable or affirmed. Through our bodies, we’ll give presence to the voices and bodies of the many women Ensler interviewed in the creation of the piece.
And if there’s one thing I want our audience to feel it’s rage. And this might be a hard thing to hear. But I am done being polite. What is happening to women, what has been thrust upon women for eons must stop.
I had a conversation a while ago with a woman who told me how it took her years to understand that the behaviour of her partner, his manipulation, coercion, control was actually not normal. He may not have beaten her physically, she may not have had bruises or broken bones but she lived in constant fear that nothing she did was to his satisfaction and he was constantly changing the goal posts. The toll this took on her emotional and mental well being was such that now she has chronic physical ailments long after she managed to get out from under the same roof.
Gaslighting, dismissing, controlling, emotionally blackmailing are all acts of violence – perhaps not overtly physical but the effects of emotional violence can ultimately have an impact physically. The body can only take so much and it is intricately connected to the health of the mind and spirit.
Eve Ensler’s book In the Body of the World deals frankly and openly with her own disconnection from her body due to the abuse she suffered as a child and how her battle with uterine cancer led her back to connection and embodiment. She had to go through a difficult to get there. There was pain she had to face up to to heal. A profoundly moving part of her story is the connection she made with women in the Democratic Republic of Congo with whom she’d spent time. Many had suffered wounds like traumatic fistulae from having been victims of rape as a weapon of war. Ensler then experienced the same injury due to her cancer surgery. Something about embodying a similar wound brought her closer to wholeness and connection to the wider world.
Violence doesn’t just happen to those women over there or behind that closed door or to a anonymous woman in a different social circle. It’s happening everywhere and to the extent that it happens to one of us, it happens to all of us. Because we’re all connected really. Our bodies are being violated, objectified, dismissed, sexualised without our consent. Our bodies are despised, found wanting, shamed. Our bodies are beaten, bruised and broken on a daily basis and it has to stop.
I’m glad we have a sell out show on Sunday night because it means more money can go to Women’s Aid here in Northern Ireland and to women directly affected by domestic violence. 10% of the proceeds will also go to Ensler’s V-Day campaign which works globally to bring awareness to the issue of violence against women.
To those of you who can’t make the show, please consider donating the price of the ticket (£10/$14/€11) to Women’s Aid or V-Day or a women’s shelter local to you. To the rest of you who were lucky enough to get a ticket, come prepared to laugh, cry and rage with us and let’s see if we can’t start to see change happen.
Don’t forget to like and follow Strut and Bellow on Facebook and Instagram. Subscribe to the podcast on iTunes. And stop by for my Facebook/Instagram live on Friday morning (11am GMT) when I will be giving a shout out to the amazing creative team behind our production of The Vagina Monologues at the Lyric.