I have performed Flowers Aren’t Enough, my one woman show on domestic violence over 1700 times globally. I have performed in the slums of India, to beautiful homes in Beverly Hills. I have performed at the United Nations and in the president’s house in Israel. But, it is when I perform Flowers in juvie , something in my core is moved.
I tell the girls in my new group that I will never ask them to do something I wouldn’t do, and that I will perform for them, just as they will act and perform for me during the program - I prepare them for the show the week before, something I never do.
I learned that when I perform for incarcerated youth, (boys and girls), I need to explain to them that it’s not me, it’s a play, many of them have never seen a play. I tell them it’s about domestic violence, that it’s not easy, that it might be familiar. I tell them it is intense, and if it’s too much they can go outside and take a breather, I will not be mad.
There is no stage, we are in the gym. I change in the bathroom. There is a 10 people audience, and yet this, THIS IS THEATRE at its best. Live, bare, intense, naked, direct. For me as a performer, I get to look into everyone’s eyes—it is great, and so hard at the same time. For the audience there is no place to hide, that is even harder. My girls are silent, my girls are uncomfortable, a few are hurting. I want to stop and break the fourth wall, run over and hug them and say “just kidding," “not really."
Of the hundreds of times I have prayed, spoken, wished domestic violence never existed, this time, and the times that I have done this show in juvie, my entire existence wants this to be fiction. I want this to be a farfetched fabricated story that no one has ever heard of, something some crazy person made up. But all I need to do is look at these girls, and I know it is real, and it is horribly painful. This, this story of violence of violation is their life.
I see them see themselves, their mothers and sisters in me, and in the character Michal that I am playing. I watch them look away, move uncomfortably, shed a tear and inevitably someone will run out because it is just too much. They start off distant, then they lean forward, then they are with me reacting, shaking their head, angry at Michal (the abused wife) for not fighting back. At the end, during the discussion someone said; “If this happened to me, I would hit that guy right back.”
The next one shares her story and says, “I thought I’d do that too, but when you are in it, well, you just feel worthless and then you can’t do anything." We all nod our head and cry with her. And then, we breathe, and we talk some more and we play. We talk about relationships. I tell them that no one can, or should have the right to treat them badly. They cautiously tell me about their boyfriends, their pimps and the abusive people in their life.
I have heard it literally thousands of times but now, here, it is like I am hearing it for the first time, each story they tell me tears a little hole in my heart. I sigh, but I smile, I smile and feel the tug of the new holes that have just been carved in my heart, but I make myself smile the biggest smile I can, and I tell them that this will pass . They will move forward. They must learn from their mistakes and never let them happen again. I tell them that this, this incarceration is a hiccup, they can get over it, that they can have a brilliant future. A future I look forward to seeing. And I tell them that love can be beautiful, no, love should be beautiful.
Yes, love is brilliant, at times maybe painful, but brilliant !
No one has the right to hurt them. Love should, and can make you feel so good soo soo good, they giggle.
They tell me the play was great, they tell me they want to act, they ask me, “Are we going to do that Ms?” “No,” I say. “You, you are going to do something better, so much better.”
“For real?” they ask.
“Yep,” I say. I am reminded of the power of theatre.
The power of theatre to wake you up, move you forward and be what I have always said, a tool for transformation.
But most of all, theatre should be a mirror, a mirror that makes you look at what you do not want to see, touch it, and then change it.
We hug, one girl doesn’t want to let go. We eat chocolate (my remedy for everything).
One says, “That was so real.”
And the one who shared her story comes really close and whispers in my ear, “I WILL NEVER LET THAT HAPPEN AGAIN.”
“Good,” I answer, and hold like there is no tomorrow.