Strength in Fragility
Our Glass Figures examines trauma through performance
Though the coffee shop was busy with late afternoon bustle, Rhiannon Frasier unabashedly let tears well in her eyes as she talked about her work on Our Glass Figures, a piece of theater opening this weekend at Tricklock and moving to The Cell Theatre in its second week. It's heavy material that Mud&Wine Collective—the theater company producing the event—is grappling with in this original production. Weighty as it is, the content of the piece addresses a lived reality for many people, particularly women. That being said, if you are triggered by discussion of sexual violence, rape, assault and abuse—this might not be the piece of theater to settle into this weekend, it may not even be in your best interest to continue on with this article—but know that the topics are treated honestly and with great care by the 12 women involved with the production. As Frasier spoke, her conviction flashed. “No matter what happens in the performance, just to sit in a room with a lot of women … who are so willing to be completely honest … is empowering, to have women tell you into your eyeballs that this is a horrible time that they went through and they have since come out of it.”
The play—fragmented snippets of monologue, dance, song and more—was constructed through a long series of rehearsals that incorporated writing prompts, freeform discussion and an ongoing feedback and development process. Then, Caroline Graham, who also sat down to talk with Frasier and I, distilled the materials into cohesion. As a longtime creative and an MFA student in dramatic writing, Graham explained that a lot of her interest lies “not just in creating [her] own stories, but elevating other people's stories that aren't always necessarily heard.” She has been processing and unpacking the topics presented in Our Glass Figures for several years on the page. “I've noticed as a writer and an avid reader and watcher of theater and really any media … that there are some artists who handle it very delicately and with the proper care, but equally as often, or more so, [trauma] is a plot device, or a substitute for personality,” she explained. In Our Glass Figures, while trauma is a part of the narrative, they seek to provided a fuller representation of women who have suffered it. “There's this inherent stigma,” Graham continued on, “like, I can't talk about this, lest it define my entire existence.” Instead of erasing the fullness of women's identity by highlighting trauma, Our Glass Figures aims to empower and educate.
The play—fragmented snippets of monologue, dance, song and more—was constructed through a long series of rehearsals that incorporated writing prompts, freeform discussion and an ongoing feedback and development process.
“One of my biggest goals is to educate without lecturing, to find a space where we can elevate the things that happen in our community, and foster ally-ship because we're in this very heightened time. … What I'm thinking about is how to create a community that can be better allies to each other,” Graham summarized. Hinging on that, Frasier unpacked the empowerment she sees the production fostering: “A deep sense of empowerment comes from your willingness to share … in a safe space. … The therapy in that is that you can look at another person and say, 'This happened, I have been through this, I am sharing this story with you now because I am OK, and if I'm not OK, then I will be OK later.'” The production aims to create a safe space, not just for the performers, but for the audience, too. Graham explained that throughout the creation process, open communication became extremely important, as women chose what stories they wanted to tell, what they wanted others to speak for them and what was to remain unsaid. “Since we are dealing with such sensitive topics, we are making sure that it's a very dialogic process. … We're all putting ourselves in a very vulnerable place and it has to be safe, because if it's not safe, it's not worth it. And if it's not safe, it won't be a good show,” she emphasized.
Both agreed that theater is an ideal medium to approach many subjects—including the most delicate ones. “It's so much more personal than putting statistics on a billboard … so the audience is more invested. It makes it hit home that these are real people … on this stage right in front of you, a few feet away, that are dealing with this all the time,” Graham explained. “It's harder to see it as a nebulous problem.” The more people can understand that, the better. In the process of creating Our Glass Figures, as these 12 women sat in a room together constructing these stories, they approached a writing exercise on the topic. As Frasier and Graham told it, at one point one of the actresses looked up and around the room of so many women and—saying it all by saying so little—pointed out, “I fucking hate that we all had something to write.”
Viewers can settle into this safe space at Tricklock Performance Laboratory from Feb. 9 to 12, or at The Cell Theatre for its second weekend, Feb. 16 to 19. Tickets for the (pay-what-you-wish) dates at Tricklock can be purchased at the door, tickets ($8-15) for the productions at The Cell are now available online at liveatthecell.com. There has never been a better time to join the dialogue. This production was slated for premiere in July, but after “all this apocalyptic shit went down,” in November, as Graham so precisely put it, the material felt more pressing. “What we want to do is foster a supportive community within Albuquerque, hopefully this show will help do that,” she said, quickly adding that, on an individual plane, “It's kind of nourishing for the soul to be in a room with so many talented women of so many backgrounds. It gives me life.”