CW: mental health, sexual assault
This project is something special, folks.
Brittany Welch is a dynamic artist and storyteller that I met in my time at undergrad at Samford; we became close friends, and back in October, we became roommates. Brittany is a second-year MFA candidate student at UMKC in Kansas City, and when given the opportunity to write and perform something for her cohort's end of semester cabaret-styled showcase, she wrote something brilliant and relevant and challenging to us all.
Seeing St. Vitus is a short piece following Amanda, a history teacher in a group therapy session, exploring the Dancing Plague of 1518 as a way to navigate through her own prior relationship trauma. A one-woman show that drives on the “NOW” and the “THEN” (unwarranted memories from her relationship with Mark), the show ends in Amanda’s own dynamic dance as she fights to be in the present rather than consumed by the past.
As the director of the piece where the playwright was also the performer, we spent a lot of time exploring the vulnerability of Amanda - there is so much of her that is accidentally shared with the audience, and so we explored how long it takes for her to be intentionally vulnerable rather than deflect and defer to the Dancing Plague. We also worked through consistency of Amanda's overall character between the “NOW” and “THEN”, where in one we witness someone with more general composure, and the other we see someone in the middle of heated conversations, arguments, and getting taken advantage of by their partner.
Intimacy choreography is something I'm incredibly passionate about. The third “THEN” details a traumatic sexual encounter between Amanda and Mark; our goal was to provide physicality to this section that would keep it intimate and keep the audience informed without making the section traumatic for the audience as well. We focused on shifts in posture to navigate the four ways this encounter is communicated through that section (the strict narrative, Amanda's thoughts, Amanda's words, and Mark's words), and hand positions in conjunction with to navigate the giving and revoking of consent.
I think there are so many powerful elements to this story, how it's written and how it now lives in the space, but I think the most dynamic truth it provides is that you are worthy of being listened to - Amanda, early on, express she doesn't feel like she "deserves" to be at a therapy session. So frequently we've been taught to dismiss, compartmentalize, or silence ourselves and our experiences. Brittany named the character Amanda, which means "deserving to be loved" - and what is love, but being listened to and received by those around you? We are all worthy of being heard; of having our story known, and not feeling like it is too much or not enough for the space we are given.