In March we were proud to support this performance, which used music and drama to challenge misconceptions about sexual assault, by producing some flyers and promoting it on social media. We’re delighted that composer Chloe Knibbs, an activist we’re proud to be connected with, has written this blog for us reflecting on the performance, its impact and the power of art in challenging myths and raising awareness about sexual abuse. You can hear Chloe talk more about her work on 27th April, details below.
By Chloe Knibbs:
Just over a month ago, I had a performance of my work – “The Girl Behind the Glass” – a piece that used music and drama to explore sexual assault recovery (for more details, please see: http://thecuspmagazine.com/reviews/girl-behind-glass-review/ ).
The piece was made up of singing, cello music, drama and recordings of my own song material and was performed with great empathy, care and attention by all the performers (Suzie Purkis, Abigail Kelly and Megan Kirwin).
In everyday life, most people are exposed to issues of sexual assault in the 5 minutes it is featured on the news. And yet for this performance, people were staying with these issues for an hour. Naturally, I was terrified – would people just switch off? Would they be disgusted by it? Could they find beauty in the process of sexual assault recovery?
Moreover, sexual assault is often viewed as a one-off alien happening. Often most people would like to pretend these things do not happen. Or point to the ways those who have experienced sexual violence should have handled the situation differently – “Did you actually say no?”. Moreover, depictions in the media often make it seem that those who have experienced such trauma will be permanently broken and forever vulnerable – “Her life will never be the same again”. And so often there is misunderstanding around the process of recovery – “But it happened a year ago, don’t you think you need to move on now?”.
This was why focusing on recovery became integral to the work. I was keen to demonstrate the non-linear – and sadly often traumatic in itself – nature of recovery. Many survivors talk of feeling like that they have been split in two, that one part just remains with the trauma whilst the other part attempts to maintain ordinary everyday life (despite everything feeling anything other than normal). As a result, I decided to make the two singers represent parts of the same person, a visual indication of just how fractured someone may feel in the aftermath of this type of trauma. The piece followed the journey of these two parts of the same person at various points. There was the denial, the withdrawal, the anger, the self-hatred – how the media and responses from others can feed this – the trauma symptoms, and the coming together of these two parts with acceptance and self-compassion.
The performance finished with yellow flower petals falling down to the stage floor. It was a funeral of what had been lost. It was hope. It was pain. And accepting that pain. I sat quietly, wondering what the audience responses would be. Would they have been affected? Would they have been affected too much?
After the performance I gave out feedback forms to all the audience members, with just one question: “How did the piece affect you?” And after plucking up enough courage, it did take five days (!), I read them and was incredibly surprised by the reactions.
It turned out there were a number of survivors in the audience, and all had written of how they could connect with the performance and how helpful – also exhausting – that had been. I was massively touched by this, and I think it is the best feedback I could have ever received. The fact that these individuals came to the performance was incredibly brave, and I am so glad they felt they could share their stories with me.
And there was a second surprise. Many of the other feedback forms included sentiments such as “I will rethink how I respond to these issues in the future”. Or “I have an insight into the difficulties people face when trying to recover from sexual assault”. When writing the piece I had hoped it would open people’s eyes, or make them aware of the negative impact certain comments or responses can have. Nevertheless, I did not expect this level of feedback. As an artist, I am inevitably invested in the power of art – for myself, for others, for communities – but I had underestimated it this time. For people to be prepared to rethink and question the normalised responses to rape and sexual assault, gave me an insight into what changes could be made in the future. Perhaps one of the audience members will meet someone who is dealing with these issues, and they will be the voice of compassion that challenges the judgement and stigma. They will be a voice of hope, for the 85,000 women and the 12,000 men in the UK who experience sexual assault every year (https://rapecrisis.org.uk/statistics.php ).
Most importantly, this experience showed me that art can make human what has been dehumanised, stigmatised. That putting these issues in a context other than the news or social media, can give people the perspective to see things differently. To see that the rape and sexual assault is hideous, but that those who experience it are not. That life will be different, but these people are no less human or beautiful.
With thanks to Birmingham Conservatoire, mac birmingham, RSVP Birmingham for supporting the piece.
Also, for more information on this piece, Chloe Knibbs will be talking at Badego’s Short Talks Event on the 27th April: http://badego.org.uk/events/small-talks-april-2017/