A lot of us mentioned anticipating coming into the space with sadness to our last survivor design workshop. Five weeks have really flown by, and I myself am terrible at goodbyes. But I think we all surprised each other when we parted ways: we all felt so confident that this wasn't an end, but a beginning.
We started the session with an exploration around the structure of the hymns in the play, all of which start with the phrase "I asked for the Lord and you gave me…" As a group we discussed what it is we're asking for, when we find ourselves asking for God, before going into a quick writing exercise on what we sometimes find instead. A few minutes before the end of the task, everyone was invited to find some kind of redemption in their piece, if it felt right. The results ranged from active choices against redemption, to bittersweet stories of determined survival, to open-ended questions to ourselves. Each was powerful in its own right; together they were a tapestry of spiritual growth.
We recorded several of the pieces in the single voice of their author, as well as several verses of the hymns in the play in various lone voices, before recording all our voices speaking over the top of each other. The anonymity of the latter led many of us impulsively to start improvising our speech on the spot, in a powerful, fierce yet celebratory cacophony. We followed that by recording the sound so many have asked us to maintain - silence - while trying to make each other laugh (and often succeeding far too easily!). The feeling was one of breaking our silence with joy, not the pain with which we are typically associated.
Our sound designer Rad will now go and mix these recordings, and those from last week, together to begin finding the base of the sound design for the show. Our silence, our laughter, our hurt and our relief will all be in it.
We finished with some thoughts on what we want the work we have done to contribute to the play itself. A big theme in our discussion was the authenticity of what is expressed within it: nothing needs to be forced, and there need be no skepticism about the truth of it, because it was created by those who have lived it. The other biggest theme was that everyone wanted it to shift the narrative around survivors as weeping willows, and show us transposing our suffering into activism. As one participant said, "We're not just moaning about it: we're getting stuff done."
Thinking finally about what we felt we achieved over the course of five sessions, there were some important observations. "More than we thought we would" was one of the first. Breaking out of our comfort zones followed soon after. Vulnerability was an interesting follow-up: it's not a quality on which people often get congratulated, but as survivor creators we come to value our vulnerability as the source of our courage, the driver of our integrity, and permission for our freest creativity. The remaining options, to my delight, largely revolved around two themes: artistry and community.
Spaces like this for survivors of spiritual abuse are so rare and so long-awaited. We had no doubt we would be working together again, and I'm so excited to see where that collective energy takes everyone - let alone where it takes the play.
What better way to celebrate the completion of this stage of the project than with a mini audio-documentary about the process? With thanks to Rosie Dawson for coming down from Manchester to meet us and hear from us, this episode of the Shiloh Podcast will give you further insights into our process, our reasons, and even a few sneak soundbites from the play itself. Check us out on the Shiloh Project's page now!
Tickets for the show available here.