In late 2018, I decided to write a one-woman show. I had just come off a fairly successful run at Calgary Fringe, but there had been some actor issues. The top Fringe shows, I had noticed, were often single actor pieces with amazing stories.
So, I began to write. I have always written an element of myself in all my plays. Drowning Ophelia was about an emotionally abusive relationship. Empty Spaces was about not knowing who I was. Strength in Pain was . . . again about emotional abuse. Carolien and Wessex was about emerging from the weight of expectations and the lies we are taught to believe.
I knew I had a story. I grew up in an evangelical home. After high school, I went to bible college for six years. At the time of writing my one-woman show, I didn’t know what I believed, but I was very, very broken.
My first words:
“Okay, look: I knew that Prime Minister Jean Chretien wasn’t going to visit me. I knew I wasn’t a re-incarnated Amazon. I knew I wasn’t going to be a guest on Jay Leno, and I knew that I wouldn’t have a steamy romance with Ben Affleck, Heath Ledger, or David Hyde Pierce (boy did I miss the boat on that one). But those were the things that kept me going. The only things that kept me going in this small town, in this lonely life, that this little girl led. Those delusions and more. And the biggest delusion of all: that were would be someone for her at the end of the day who would love her.”
Thus Cleaning for the Prime Minister + Other Delusions was born.
As I wrote it, a lot of things happened. Memories popped up that I had completely forgotten. Those memories made me sad but most of all, they made me angry. How could someone do that to me? Why did anyone think that was okay? What was wrong with me that all that stuff happened? Sure, some parts were funny, like the time I threw up half a hot dog in a swimming pool but at the time it wasn’t. I could make the audience laugh when I told them that story because it doesn’t bother me anymore. Other stories were more raw.
When I got to the end of the play, I saw I was leaving it in a place I didn’t recognize. I wasn’t angry anymore. I couldn’t leave the audience with that anger, with that lack of hope. So I wrote:
“That delusion of being loved? I think I’ll keep it. I know it’s said ‘tis better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all’, but in the same vein, isn’t it better to think, deluded as you may be, that you can be loved? Doesn’t that delusion bring a bit of pep to your step? . . . You’re here. You’re here. You did this.”
I ended with the song Free by The Martinis. Fans of Empire Records may recognize it. “Who are you to tell me, it’ll always be this way. I close my eyes and I turn around, and leave it all behind.”
Alright. I had finished my play. Now what? I submitted it to a festival for adjudication and I prepared to perform it. While I waited for the lights to go out, signalling my cue to go onstage, I panicked. What if I am oversharing? Who wants to hear my dirty laundry? I thought I had made a terrible, exposing mistake. The lights went out, I went on stage, and began.
For 45 minutes, I held that audience in the palm of my hand. They laughed, they gasped, they murmured amongst themselves. Then, when the lights went out for the final time, they erupted. Strangers came up to me thanking me for telling my story. They felt the power and some of them saw themselves in what I was saying. I received Best Actress for that performance, which is a funny thing to say because I wasn’t acting. For once in my life, I was 100% me.
The empowerment that followed has stayed with me to this day. Now, that doesn’t mean that before a performance I don’t get that niggling thought that maybe no one wants to hear my story, but thankfully it’s a passing thought and it has never been justified. My story has value, not only to me but to other people.
Other things happened too, after I told my story. I began to face my trauma. For years, I had lived with a barrage of feelings that I couldn’t explain. Thanks to what I call my spoken-word memoir, I was able to put words to the feelings. I was able to heal.
When I told my story, I took space back so I could exist without fear, without shame. I could exist as I was, as I am, and as I’m going to be. That space had been denied since I was born for a lot of reasons but no longer. I take up the space I deserve.
When you tell your story, you do the same. You also do something else: you provide the opportunity for another person to do that as well. It’s the best trickle-down theory out there.