Gary Working at dining room table
Gary Kirkham working at my dining room table during one of our writing sessions.

Over the past year, I have been working on a new play with my friend and colleague Gary Kirkham, a well-known and well-respected playwright.

Gary started out as my mentor when he led Writers Bloc, a playwriting collective run by Kitchener’s Theatre and Company in the early 2000s. Our relationship evolved over the years and since 2012 we have collaborated on a number of projects from short films to theatre productions.

Our lastest collaboration is a new work of verbatim theatre. Based on the real words of real people, “Rage Against Violence” was commissioned by Women’s Crisis Services of Waterloo Region (WCSWR) for its annual awareness and fundraising event November 30, 2015. It’s based on a series of interviews conducted by Gary and me as well as WCSWR staff. These interviews include:

  • Women who have lived with violent partners;
  • Police officers who respond to domestic violence calls;
  • Shelter support workers who answer crisis lines and guide women through escape and recovery;
  • The nurse who records and treats the physical and emotion damage wrought by abusive partners
  • And the journalist who reports on the trials of people who’ve murdered their intimate partner.

My time as a photojournalist taught me to view the world through a lens – literally and figuratively.

It was a technique I often used to distance myself emotionally from things I would rather not deal with, but had to: the mundane, the bureaucratic, but most importantly the horrific. This is not to say you shut down empathy or concern for others, but you look at things pragmatically to get the job done.

I still use this lens when I’m confronted with the tough things in life. It helped me deal with one of our greatest challenges in writing “Rage Against Violence” – hearing the pain in these women’s voices as they relived the violence.

However, there were moments when I felt the lens crack; I’d draw a ragged breath – stifle a errant sob:

Vivian – “There was a crack under the cell door. I laid down on the floor and tried to breath through the crack”

Kelly – “The girls were hiding behind the toilet. And he was running the water in the bathtub with the plug in.”

Susan – “He went to the basement and came back with a … machete.”

The Nurse – “After an emotional day … you would gather your family together … no matter what your kids did that day you would hug them tighter that night.”

The room would go silent. I would look at Gary; he would be struggling with his emotions too.

Click for a larger view.

Gary and I believe part of our job is to make the lens crack, to draw attention to the things in life we would rather not confront, to have you struggle with the same emotions we faced in our work. And, we do this in the hope you will take the experience back to the community and enrich everyone’s life with your insights and understanding.

While we have poured ourselves into this project, it would not be possible without the funding, trust and artistic freedom granted to us by Women’s Crisis Services of Waterloo Region. It’s the progressive thinking of people like Mary Zilney, executive director of WCSWR, that transforms art into community building.

“Rage Against Violence” will run for one night only in Waterloo Region – November 30, 2015 at the Dunfield Theatre 46 Grand Ave., Cambridge. We hope you will come and see this one-of-a-kind production and support Women’s Crisis Services by buying a ticket and making a donation to its work.


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