Saturday, 21 July 2018

Heroine Dramaturgy: Susan Worsfold @ Edfringe 2018

Scene Change Productions


WORLD PREMIERE Part of the 2018 Made in Scotland Showcase
This poignant and darkly humorous solo performance, based on the remarkable true story of a US military sexual trauma survivor, explores courage, healing, forgiveness and what speaking your truth really means
Directed by Susan Worsfold (Eve, NTS) Written and performed by Mary Jane Wells
Rainy Hall, Assembly venues, 3 - 26 August 2018 (not 8, 21), 12.00 (13:05), 16+

Danna Davis (her nom de guerre), is the only female soldier within her company in the US army. As a lesbian serving in the midst of the ’Don't Ask, Don't Tell’ policy, she is sexually assaulted by three male soldiers. On a dangerous mission inside a combat zone, Sgt Davis is forced to rely on one of her attackers to get her squad home safely. Can finding peace ever be possible?
Embarking on her most daunting mission yet, Danna speaks out for the first time. This incredible human story about one soldier's experiences reflects on the human paradigm of revenge, what one must give up to forgive, and the black humour necessary when there has been no justice. heroine delves into the grit required to be the only woman in your company, the courage you must find to lead your squad into combat, when your as- sailant is within, and the heroism it takes to finally talk about it.

how would define the political content of your work?

Its essential to me to be political rather than Political with heroine. My job as a writer and performer is to tell Danna's story it in all of its colours, so this piece is absolutely not affiliated with Agit Prop or pushing any political or legislative agenda in its content. I believe in letting art be art. In watching and participating in art this way, I have come to be more educated and outside the play I am an activist for the issues it raises, for zero tolerance and zero occurence.

However, storytelling as an activity these days for me is Political. The central tenent on why I am doing heroine is my belief that "It is not the event that has the power to define our lives - but the story we choose to tell about it."

Women are just as corruptible as men. But too often their stories are as patriachy has told them - and the way patriachy has told them, as this is what many women recognise as standard. heroine embodies what it is like when we move from a patriarchal storytelling model to the way a woman tells a story whilst she is making the transition into acknowledging her narrative.

Stories like Danna's have value, that culturally we do not recognise enough yet. Stories like hers show what trying to birth them is like when patriarchy's hammy fists are all over everything. :)

On a personal note, action for Danna held a transformative potential for self worth that words could not. She needed her story heard, felt, understood. Hannah Gadsby talks about the exhaustion she felt without a community to witness, understand and take on her story - "Please help me take care of my story." The implication is not just that she is too tired to carry it alone, or even that it is so lonely to carry it without human connection but also that we might not ultimately GET THE VALUE of it.

True stories like Danna are powerful in what they tell us about power, and how to treat the vulnerable. To be powerless does not destroy our humanity. Resilience IS our humanity. Humanity has been destroyed in those who believe they have the right to render another human being powerless. 

But Gadsby says "to yield and not break - THAT is incredible strength".I agree. I also think diversity is strength, and giving up authorship is a strength. It's an actor's job is to embody each perspective and make an audience feel each perspective, so then the entire picture can be seen without one perspective getting stuck and favoured for so long we think its the right and only way of telling it. We invalidate these other perspectives in favour of the one we recognise - that of the white straight male - and that has been the one that we end up believing and investing in.

#timesup for storytelling too.

are there ways in which your work can engage the audience beyond the immediate emotional rush of the content, and move forward towards further action?

Great question. I have a shoutout for a "Brown Envelope" after the show. Its a digital way to connect directly to Danna herself to say hello and pass on a message, and also to raise awareness of the non-profit I partner with called Protect Our Defenders who exist solely to advocate for service members who are Military Sexual Trauma survivors and fight to reform the training, investigation and adjudication systems related to sexual violence and harassment in the Military. 

It means a dialogue can begin, and other resources can be laid out and clearly introduced in a way that the audience member can direct. Taking care of the audience and why they might be motivated to reach out is also something I want to take care of, so for Edinburgh we are also partnering with Safe to Say, who are on hand to counsel anyone during our entire run in Edinburgh who comes forward with a disclosure or is affected by the play's themes and needs support.

how far do the material conditions of the Fringe impact on the process by which you make theatre for it?

Hugely. If we had not won a Made in Scotland Award I would not consider doing it. We are so privileged to be platformed in a sea of incredible international work and to be funded at the fringe is one of those wildest dreams that never seemed possible.
Writer and performer Mary Jane Wells states, “There are two separate justice systems – one for soldiers, an- other for the rest of us. Since the cultural sea change sparked by #metoo last November, #metoomilitary has seen little comparable movement: on both sides of the Atlantic, military justice systems are broken.
“The Pentagon estimates that sexual assaults increased from 19,000 in 2011 to 26,000 in 2012 and the figures are actually higher for 2013 - 2016. According to these figures, female soldiers in the US army are statistically more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than they are to be killed in com- bat. According to the most recent US Department of Defence report, there is a sexual assault in the US Mili- tary every 35 minutes.
“I wrote heroine from a sense of outrage at what one soldier endured, admiration for her character and be- cause I wanted to support her healing. Her truth needs to be out there and she was clearly ready to talk. I knew that in order to tell this story responsibly and truthfully, the dark humour we share was also essential. My bones said, ‘Write’.”
Mary Jane Wells trained as an actress at The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (RCS) and worked in Scottish theatre before dividing her acting career between the UK and the US. She played Josie Marks in HBO’s The Newsroom and her duet with Gerard Butler in How to Train Your Dragon 2 hit the Oscar list, whereupon she became a full-time voice actor, working at Starz and Dreamworks. She was nominated in 2016 for Outstand- ing Body of Voice Work by SOVAS (Warner Brothers), won an Earphones Award for excellence in narration in 2017 and was a 2018 Audies finalist. Upcoming work includes sci-fi neo-noir feature The Tangle. Mary Jane
For all press enquires please contact: Sharon - on 07970 178643 or the SM Publicity team - on 07401 878154
was also lead artist on new writing site-specific show I Confess, supported by Arts Council England. She also works as a story coach, notably on Sundance Select / CNN documentary Holy Hell.
heroine was developed in Scotland with support from Aberdeen Performing Arts, Creative Scotland and Capi- tal Theatres before winning The Olwen Wymark Award with Nicola McCartney, and Made in Scotland support.
Susan Worsfold is an award-winning theatre director who has worked with the National Theatre of Scotland and been supported by Creative Scotland, Made in Scotland, British Council Brazil and British Council Scot- land. Susan is co-company director of Queen Jesus Plays, working with Jo Clifford to direct the internationally acclaimed The Gospel According to Jesus, Queen of Heaven, which toured to Brazil in 2016, won a Made in Scotland and Scottish Arts Award and continues to tour to South America, UK, Europe and the USA. She is Creative Development Director of the Nadine George Voice Centre and is Associate Teacher to the Centre for Voice at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, from which she graduated with a BA Hons in Directing in 1998. In 2017 she directed Eve by Jo Clifford & Chris Goode for The National Theatre of Scotland performing at the Traverse theatre, Edinburgh and Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, The Last Post (St Magnus International Festival commission, Made in Scotland 2017 Award performing within the Summerhall programme), Lysistrata, Three- penny Opera (Kings Theatre, Edinburgh), War in America (Old Royal High School, World Premiere) for The Attic Collective, The Gospel According to Jesus, Queen of Heaven (UK Tour), Heroine by Mary Jane Wells (Edinburgh Festival Theatre), and Cleopatra, at Sesc Palladium, Belo Horizonte, Brazil. heroine is her third show to receive a Made in Scotland award.

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