A couple of weeks ago, my friend Beverly who is music Director at the UU Church in Tamworth, asked me to give a talk on “Creativity and Social Justice.” I thought it sounded like a great topic, but didn’t know enough to give a talk. I mentioned Journey into Courage. Beverly got back to her committee and said they wanted me to come and my topic would be “Journey into Courage.”
Journey into Courage is a theater piece written and performed by women survivors of domestic violence. It started as a “drama class” for survivors. I signed up because I’ve always loved theater. The exercises were really interesting. Bess would ask us to remember a really bad time and then she’d ask questions: are you inside or outside? what clothes are you wearing? what time of day is it? I found this fascinating. It shifted my attitude toward painful events in my life from feeling ashamed and sad to seeing them as raw material for art. After about six weeks of getting together, doing exercises, and writing monologues, Bess revealed her REAL agenda. She said “We’ve got a date for a performance, who’s in?” Some women dropped out, but there were 8 of us who agreed to perform. Bess had set up a structure: the first section was Fear, followed by Anger, and finally Courage. They were separated by “musical numbers” as Bess called them, not saying the scary word “dance.” She had cleverly choreographed movements like marching, coming in one by one and taking a place on the stage, coming in as two lines facing each other. There were also slides that were shown as we changed from one section to another. While we were putting it together it became clear how important children were. Some mothers wanted to talk about how her husband’s abuse affected their children. So we added a section called “Children” between Fear and Anger. I had actually decided to join the performance because I wanted to make the point that alcoholism of the parent is abuse of the child even when there’s no overt violence.
We did four series of performances from ‘91 to ‘94. Some women dropped out, new women came. Our monologues changed as we remembered or understood parts of our past lives. Along the way, we discovered that every woman who’d married a batterer had been abused as a child. This is not to blame the woman, implying that she had somehow asked for it, but to show how abusive parents are setting up their children to be caught in cycles of abuse. By the time we did our last round of performances, every one of us had remembered something abusive from her childhood.
A section that changed a lot was the one about anger. At first there were just my Poem, Prisoners of War, another woman’s poem, and one woman’s “Dear John” letter to her ex-boyfriend which turned out to be funny. Unfortunately, she started trying to be funny, which wasn’t funny at all. Finally she dropped out. I suggested that we might all write ‘Dear Ex” letters to our abusers. So we did. I remember the first night we read them. We were all worried, most of us had been punished for getting angry. Ferne read hers first, and the audience clapped and cheered. What wonderful support for what we were doing!
Finally, Bess decided to make a video about the making of Journey into Courage, and how it affected the lives of the women. There was footage of actual performances. The video continues to be used in training emergency personnel in Vermont.
Bess O’Brien is still making documentaries at Kingdom County Productions.
Other pages in this blog give information about Journey into Courage.
April 1994: Interview for Journey into Courage Video
Stopping the Chain of Abuse
Mean Mothers and Bodily Harm