I announced an upcoming performance of ‘Testy Manifesto’ on social media earlier this month, stating that it made ‘Frontal Lobotomy’ look like ‘a prance around a sunny unicorn paddock in rainbow flip flops.’ As I was rehearsing for the performance last month I longed for slipping into that old show like a comfortable pair of shoes. I began to lose heart and really doubt myself. I know I have every right to tell this story, and to get me through I had to focus on why I was telling it, and more importantly who I was telling it for.
Since the having the feedback from the performance at Cabaret Playroom in November, I’ve developed a few things they mentioned. The French character now appears three times (much like the Doctor character in ‘Frontal Lobotomy’) and speaks for longer. Learning lines in another language was a new and perilous challenge. The blocking of movements and a more effective use of the space was a priority this time around. When I performed in November, my main aim was to learn the words and somehow get them out. I noticed from the video that I only really used one area of the space, and the actual shape I was making with my body rarely changed. This time I experimented with movement and shape, seeing what came out instinctively as I repeated the words. I’ve still been very sparing with movement, I can be bolder with this.
I added three new poems to the extract, it now runs at just over 20 minutes. I haven’t worked with a director or anyone to give me an outside eye as yet, I just simply don’t have the money, or the timing have been off. I am relying on a video of the performance from the end of February, where I performed the newest instalment at Moving Voices at The Art House in Southampton. I watch many performances for my job, and here guide students as best I can through awareness of the playwrights intentions and the individual qualities of the actor. Here I am trying to navigate what my own intentions are, and seeing what my own qualities and short-comings as a performer are, and doing my best to stay as objective and encouraging as possible. I watched the video and made some notes....
- Enter more slowly, give time for the image. Lift the skeleton slowly. The feet clatter on the floor several times - can I cover the soles with something to stop that happening?
- Sort out the walking; I only bend from your waist and walk flat-footed.
- Pronunciation of simplement. Practise the French more, you gave the character a good go.
- Not sure the sequinned headband works with taking an eye-patch on and off. Disappointed to let this motif go, and need something else as part of the costume for my head/hair.
- ‘No harm in peeking’ Needs reaction, look, slight pause.
- The first poem - the introduction - feels slow enough to be taken in.
- I’m so stiff in my hips, my head sways side to side - work on this.
- The ‘play’ with removing the coat needs to be front centre. The movement larger.
- Clock the audience before the second poem starts.
- ‘Help me.’ Needs emphasis, mark the moment.
- Arms are too stiff to start with.
- The crouching before the puppet looks good, could be bowing?
- Puppet needs his head up more - fix his neck.
- Do I throw the skeleton down or let him drop?
- Exaggerate my leg creeping away - symbolic movement showing being dragged back in?
- Voice changes when I stand up on ‘Power’ - do I want this?
- Too much of my profile is to Stage Left.
- ‘Got up my nose.’ Emphasise.
- Barbie’s entrance, turn her to the front first.
- Barbie can move more. Grabbing her by the hair worked.
- Missed the last verse of ‘Handle with Care.’
- Forgot some of Barbie’s occupations. The final line of this section worked well.
- Should I turn away when putting on the beret and eye-patch? It seems fine to remove it facing front.
- ‘Je ne suis pas invisible.’ Play this up more, leave a space for reaction.
- With the banner - look around more towards the end of the poem, as if on the march.
- Missed two lines from ‘Jezebel.’
- More movement in the repetition part of the 3rd French speech.
- Smile first before the final poem - I need to set up the intention before speaking.
- Work more on ‘Ode to Recovery.’
- Choose better moment or pause to put on coat at the end.
- The ending should be punchier - it’s like I ran out of steam and limped off at the end.
A woman approached me after this performance and said she was captivated. She added that she’d seen plenty of one-woman shows that seemed to have all types of cash and gimmicks thrown at them, but nothing like the heart or potential of this show. She then added that she was a domestic abuse survivor too, and I hugged her. What she said next interested me. I have a placard I hold up in the show with the words ‘High-functioning domestic abuse survivors need support too.’ Last March when I took part in Million Women Rise, the protest to end violence against women and girls, I was waiting on my own at the start of the march, feeling pumped to be there but more lonely than ever, and I saw a sign that said that statement. On a little placard, scrawled in felt tip, were words that seemed to speak directly to me. I took those words and used them on my own banner for the performance. And the woman that approached me after the show, said the same thing; “Your sign was true, we’re ok actually, but it’s still not ok what happened to us.”
I’m not a typical victim, I have privileges other survivors don’t. The people that don’t understand why someone would return to their abuser don’t understand how coercive control works. The same people don’t understand why someone wouldn’t report a sexual assault or sexual misconduct until months or years later. It’s an insidious, gradual erasure of self. It makes you doubt everything you thought you knew as truth. It isolates you and prevents you from trusting those who might be able to help. On average a woman returns to her abuser after a violent incident 9 times. Think about that. Domestic abuse is the biggest killer of women worldwide. Think about that. Statistically nothing is more life-threatening to a woman than a partner who believes that if he can’t have her, then no one can. I’m ok, but there are many who weren’t, aren’t or won’t be.
There is a place for dialogue in the writing of this performance. It will have to be me talking to a voice-over, but within it I will examine and expose what a conversation with an abuser sounds like. To do this I’m going to have to recall actual conversations that I had, but I feel ready to do this now. In fact, although I doubt my own abilities as a performer fairly regularly, I don’t doubt for one second the importance of the message, why I’m doing it, and who it is for. And that is worth some discomfort.
Sans choix, nous sommes plus mortels que morts.