When do victims become survivors? Does simply living to tell the story mean you're a survivor? Is telling the story enough in itself? Making sense of the story goes further. Learning to celebrate who you are goes further still. Having a party on stage after performing stories from your life must surely be the ultimate statement of joyful defiance.
I've been working with Eve Women's Wellbeing Project for the past four months. Fourteen months prior to my involvement, they began writing about their lives. Most of the women had never done any writing before and they certainly had never performed their work. Even so, they booked the theatre at the Mill in Banbury. Didn't they feel they were being a little reckless or premature? 'No,' I was told when I first met them. 'Otherwise we'll never do it. It's a deadline.' They'd already set about getting funding for a professional writer to help them shape the work (me) and they'd found a director. Not so much bloody minded as bloody determined.
The women learned fast. All their lives they've been learning how to deal with adversity - domestic abuse, rape, sexual abuse, discrimination on an alarming scale. What was a mere stumbling block like a public performance? They began the process of editing and shaping their material, they wrote a hilarious doctor's surgery sketch and finally, they wrote a fairy story with superb elements of pantomime in it.
I'm not saying there weren't wobbles and heated discussions - what professional company doesn't have these? It was an enormous struggle sometimes to believe that they had the talent and even the right to be funny on stage.
Did I use the word professional? Of course I did. OK, the women aren't writers and actors, but they were 100% professional in their energy and commitment. They rewrote and reworked, they rehearsed constantly, they resolved difficulties, they negotiated with the lighting and sound technician, they sourced their own props and music - I should mention here that Eve have a fabulous singer - they organised their own transport and publicity, they did radio interviews and they supported one another throughout the whole process. In short, they behaved much like any professional ensemble company might do.
Voices from the Dark played to a warm and enthusiastic audience. They made made us cry in the first act - the stories are unbelievably harrowing - then they made us cry again in the second act, this time with laughter. The audience even began joining in with the running gags. Finally, as I said at the beginning of this blog, everyone piled down onto the stage for a big singing and dancing party. You don't see many events like that, I can tell you.
Eve has big plans for the future - watch this blog for updates. In the meantime, they need money. Dig deep. This is an organisation that is much needed. They already have another group in Witney and are hoping to set one up in Aylesbury. We need an Eve in every town, in my view.
And here's Louise, Eve's fabulous singer at work:
And we shouldn't forget the funders:
Cherwell District Council
Cherwell District Council