Breakthru, these barriers of pain; Breakthru, yeah, to the sunshine from the rain. – Queen

I reached a breakthrough last night.  But first, some background:

I am proud to be the president and associate artistic director of a grassroots community theatre group in Alberta.  This theatre group has dedicated itself to performing original works, usually by its members.  I am also a playwright.  In addition to several sketches (favourites being Superman Rides the Bus, and #AmWriting), I’ve written some one-acts (Empty Spaces, Drowning Ophelia), and some full length plays (The Long Grass, The Courtship of Sarah Chandler).  I’ve also written a 12-episode web series, but that might only ever exist in script form.  This April, Drowning Ophelia will be performed.

Here’s why it’s so special:

I wrote this during a really hard time in my life.  Probably my hardest.  I was living with an alcoholic.  Not only was he an alcoholic, but he had untreated PTSD from a traumatic childhood.  At one time, I considered him my best friend.  It was hard to see him spiral down to what he had become and be powerless to stop it, or help him.  You see, he didn’t want help.  I have my theories as to why, but that’s neither here nor there.  When he drank, he was . . . terrifying.  He would mumble to invisible people, yell at those people and hit himself.  I would be cowering under my covers, my cat right beside me, afraid to fall asleep until he had calmed down.  I never thought he would bring me physical harm, but at 3:00 in the morning with the sounds of him yelling and hitting himself, logical thought flies out the window.  There were times I was afraid to look in the bathtub for fear of what I would find.  I wanted to leave, but the lease was in my name.  I could only go to another building owned by the same management company, and affordable-to-me places were few and far between.  I was also afraid that if I left, he would get even worse, since he would have no place to go, and perhaps die.  I wasn’t really telling my friends anything that was going on.  Sure, I’d mention he got drunk again, but I didn’t tell them how much it affected me.  Maybe they knew, maybe I’m excellent at dissembling.  I had all these feelings, emotions, and fears running through my head with no output.

So I wrote.  And from that, came Drowning Ophelia.  I have mentioned getting closer to the works of Shakespeare, and what that means to me as a writer.  Hamlet has always been a favourite of mine.  I thought of poor Ophelia, and how she’s portrayed.  She goes insane, and she kills herself.  But what made her go insane?  Who made her go insane?  I believe Hamlet did.  Here was a man who told her repeatedly he loved her, but when he faked his own insanity to catch a murderer, his first victim was Ophelia.  Hamlet killed Ophelia.  His emotional and mental abuse and manipulation took her over the edge. I used that story as the backbone (and eventual bookends) to my play.  In between sits a café.  Men and women are there, in various stages of the cycle of domestic abuse.  I play Sophie/Ophelia.

Sophie and Ophelia’s character calls for depth, and emotional vulnerability.  I am guilty of Chandlerizing emotion, or emotional roughhousing.  That is to say, I wouldn’t let myself too far down into the pit.  I still needed to be in control.  But that wasn’t fair.  Not to the characters I wrote, not to the other actors in this play who need to do the exact same thing.  So last night in rehearsal, I told them not to let me get away with it.  I told me not to let me get away with it.

And I felt her.  Sophie.  I felt her pain, her anger.  After all, her pain and her anger is my pain, my anger.  This is more than just a play for me.  This is an emotional release of the past year and a half.  This is awareness for those of us who find it easier to tell people they need to leave a damaging relationship than actually leave.

I am proud of this play. I’m proud of what it’s becoming.  I have dreams its message will be far-reaching, but for now, there will be three performances.  If you’re in the Alberta area, I hope you take a trip out to see this.  Theatre should provoke.  It should tell a story.  It should create change, and until we can say there is no man, woman, or child afraid of their partner/spouse/parent, we need to change.

Drowning Ophelia Poster


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