Our bedrooms are full of stories: some humorous, some serious, but the majority of them dealing with a high level of intimacy.
Bedrooms are spaces in which we are meant to feel safe. But when we bring a sexually abusive situation into the equation, the safety net is compromised. Sexual abuse is never easy to discuss in conversation, which is why local queer writer and performer Luna Allison has created Falling Open, a theatrical piece that is performed in her bedroom this week as part of the Ottawa Fringe Festival.
With the writing process having taken three years to complete, Allison explains that the piece has evolved over time and has therefore seen many changes. The initial version was a mix of storytelling and spoken word set to live music by Ottawa’s Devin Johnstone. After having performed this version of Falling Open at the Bowery Poetry Club in New York City in September 2009, Allison realized the piece required more theatrical development.
“I went into an intense period of dramaturgy and rewriting with my friend Andrea Rideout and then connected with [Ottawa director] Lib Spry, who has been my co-creator in this project since last year. Falling Open is still very much about storytelling, though. Storytelling is the heart of the show,” says Allison, whose production features sound design by Johnstone and video art by local filmmaker and photographer Nathan Hoo.
The current incarnation of Falling Open is a blend of fictional and non-fictional stories from both abusers and survivors. Allison became interested in what would happen if both sides of the story were told, without the usual focus on villain oppressing victim. Offering a more objective outsider’s perspective, Allison plays a sweet-looking doll, a thing of beauty in a pink and white dress who carries stories with her and shares them with her audience.
“[But] this is no average doll we’re talking about here. She has access to the full story, to a level of perspective and understanding unlike any of the other members of the family that this story centres around. Through her, I wanted to explore the idea of being an object, a witness and an oracle all at the same time,” says Allison.
Following its run at the Ottawa Fringe, Allison plans to tour Falling Open through sexual abuse survivors’ bedrooms within the year. The idea of performing the show in intimate spaces is central to the project.
“Most people would say that bringing sexual abuse out of the home and into the public sphere is the key to ending it, but I disagree,” she says. “I think we need to go back into the domestic sphere and bring our audiences with us. How else can you get a handle on the reality of the experience?”
With this performance, Allison is keen to touch on matters that are often left out of public accounts, such as the rejection and grief that many survivors experience once the abuse stops. These issues may be awkward and often distressing, but Allison is passionate about sharing these stories with members of the community.
“Uncomfortable truth? Damn straight. But it doesn’t make it any less true,” she says. “Sexual abuse is a rampant social problem that has a million comfortable homes, all of them separate from each other and hiding the stories. It’s my hope that we’ll start to occupy these comfortable spaces with our uncomfortable questions. Maybe the collective light we shine on this issue will make a difference.”