TELL ME: Playing Trauma

Compiled and Edited by Natasha Dawsen

TELL ME by Lauren Lindsey White. As Elle deals with the aftermath of a traumatic event, she begins to question everything about her life that has led to this moment. Past, present and future worlds collide, in this experimental memory play that explores identity, beauty and loss.

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Megan Greener and Patrick Valley took a moment to share what it means to do a piece of this type of sensitive nature in a world where trigger warnings are employed and cultures must fight for their identities.

Megan Greener is an actor and program director/teaching artist for a youth arts organization called Developing Artists. She is a member of the classic company, Hamlet Isn’t Dead. , while also spending a good amount of my time on contemporary pieces and new works, both onstage and onscreen. “This is actually my fourth production with Playful Substance! I can’t get enough of them,” she said with energy. Patrick Valley is an Afro-Latino artists, originally from Mexico City, who joking describes himself as “Blaxican.”  An aspiring chemical engineer, he heard the call of the stage and never looked back. “There is something that truly fascinates me about the transfer of empathy that one needs to exercise as an actor, and that then gets transferred to an audience in order to allow them to feel for that character in a way that they perhaps could not have done on their own,’ he analytically conveys. Apparently, he is still researching chemistry.

In a play like this, how does it influence your creative process?

Greener: It’s certainly an exercise on being simple, and having to sell myself on one concrete, specific point of view, because the last thing I want to do is to fall into the trap of playing a villain in the “classic” sense – especially when the play is touching on something that’s already so potent, so volatile, and so real in society. It doesn’t need it. I recently re-watched an interview that Christoph Waltz had given about his role in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Bastards, because I remembered thinking that his process was quite genius, or even better – simple. When filming, he never focused on the whole Nazi side of his character. Instead, when he logically broke down what his character was doing in the simplest of terms, he found that he was merely functioning as a detective, trying to find missing people. That was something very tangible, even justifiable, that he could get behind. As far as the whole Nazi aspect – he let the costume sell that part. That was all he needed. So, in my case, I’m currently working on my personal version of that, from a lawyer’s lense. I can only imagine a lot of attorneys – especially ones with heavy caseloads – having to do a lot of “shutting off”, or compartmentalizing, out of just pure survival, and being able to get out of bed everyday. So in the act of being a prosecutor cross-examining Elle (Javana Mundy), and questioning the basis of her entire case, I need to do it from a very simple, justifiable place. However, being that I’m a woman in today’s society, and personally empathize and feel anger for Elle and other real-life victims in her position, I’ve got my work cut out for me. 

Valley: One of the main things I have learned over the past years is the importance of bringing one’s self to each and every project.  I try to read the material and see how I react to it and go from that initial impulse.  What parts of me can relate to what the character is going through? How do the things that the other characters say to me affect me.   I try to explore those initial reactions and lean into the ones that best serve the narrative of the story.  I find that it’s best not to overthink it… just listen intently, let things affect you, stay free enough to follow those impulses, and trust that the director and writer will let you know which of those best serve their vision. 

Do you feel an added sense of responsibility in dealing with such subject matter? 

Greener: I’m certainly conscious of the fact that a character like this will ring bells like Donna Rotunno of the Weinstein case for people. She certainly does for me, anyway. Who can say what Rotunno’s beliefs actually are behind closed doors, whether she believes her client (if that even matters in her work), or if she needed to sell herself on a very specific story, or point of view, in order to even be able to take the case – let alone make some of her now well-known statements. The woman vs. woman aspect in this kind of court case, in this time, certainly packs a different kind of audacious punch. I’m also conscious of the fact that an amazing actress like Javana Mundy playing Elle immediately spotlights the treatment of women of color in these kinds of cases, and the unique struggle they frequently experience in being heard, validated, and justified by the law and the public eye. 

Valley: I think there is definitely a bit of a sense of added responsibility when dealing with subjects as important and traumatic as sexual assault.  It is an incredibly delicate subject, especially to victims, so there is an extra need to handle the subject matter as truthfully as possible.

What do you hope the audiences take away from this piece? 

Greener: I hope audiences walk away reminded that we all feel what Elle’s feeling (whether they’ve been in her exact situation or not) and have found ourselves in her position to varying degrees. When trauma happens to us, we can be our own harshest critic, aside from what others may think or say. We question ourselves by looking back at past events, searching for what could have set certain things in motion, how far back, what could have been done better, what was avoidable, etc. At the risk of sounding cliché, I hope audiences walk away knowing they are not alone in this. 

Valley: I would hope audiences grasp the idea that victims don’t only have to fight to convince others of what happened to them… they also have to grapple with feelings of “was it my fault?”,  “will folks believe me?”,  “what kind of further abuse will I have to subject myself to during the process of seeking justice?”.   Victims have to endure the trauma of what happened to them, and then they must be willing to have their very integrity questioned in order to seek justice for what the perpetrator did to them.   No wonder so many cases of sexual assault go unreported. 

This deeply moving piece premieres on March 19 at Access gallery, downtown. Tickets available at https://www.artful.ly/store/events/19980

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