Exploring Grey Areas

In 2017, society was cracked open with the #MeToo Movement, exposing the shocking reality of rape culture in our lives. Erin O'Flaherty and Rachael Longshaw-Park have teamed up on An Organ of Soft Tissue to keep these vital conversations alive and investigate the influences that shape our perceptions of trauma, sexuality and gender. We chatted to them about making the piece, the #MeToo movement and what they hope audiences will take away from seeing the show:

What inspired you to write An Organ of Soft Tissue?

Erin O’Flaherty: My own experience with PTSD (and an abusive relationship) was the main impetus to write this play. I felt like I hadn't seen many representations of trauma on the stage, and I hope this work will give people some understanding of what it's like. I wanted to communicate how abuse, and rape culture more generally, is not a black and white thing. It can often be easy to miss and rape culture in particular can be insidious yet pervasive. I was really interested in exploring those more 'grey' areas, using my own experiences to inform that.

How has it been working collaboratively together?

E: It's been a fantastic process. This play would not be what it is without the people involved. Rachael was an amazing dramaturg, constantly pushing me to question the purpose of what I was doing, and really helping to lend the play it's more abstract and absurd qualities. The cast have also brought their own experiences and perspectives to the work, which has been great - while we always knew we could not represent all experiences in this one piece, we really wanted the cast to have their voices included.

Rachael Longshaw-Park: Erin and I have worked together in the director-actor relationship a few times now so I was already confident we were starting this journey in a good space, and I think that was integral considering how personal the subject matter was to the both of us. Having gone through a similar experience myself at a similar age I knew that this project was going to be challenging and unless Erin and I could be frank and sensitive to each others practice and emotional needs that this wasn’t going to work. We were also very fortunate to have a training psychologist available as a support person for the entire cast and crew if needed, which definitely took the pressure off Erin and I to wholly support each other.

I hope the play will make people feel something and give them something to ponder over

What was the casting process like?

R: The process itself from the auditions to casting was emotionally quite exhausting but ultimately so rewarding. Not only did we end up with three incredibly compassionate, intelligent and talented creatives to add to the team (Jess Hong, Ash Raju and Jonathan James), I also connected with more than sixty actors over two days, engaging in so many important and personal conversations about the themes of the work. I felt so grateful, and in the same breath, so heavy with the knowledge that Erin and I’s stories were not anomalies, only serving to solidify in my mind why we were doing this play at this time.

What impact do you think the #MeToo movement has had on New Zealanders?

E: From what I've seen (in my media bubble), the #MeToo movement empowered a lot of people to speak out about their own experiences (small or large), and also prompted a re-examination of past experiences in many, as consent and power have been discussed. I think it's been a really great start to a much-needed conversation. However, as a lot of the bigger events surrounding #MeToo have played out in Hollywood, I think we have yet to really examine our own particular culture in New Zealand.

R: I think it’s given a lot of people hope that things can change, but I also think, for survivors, it’s going to take a lot more than a hashtag to change this climate. I can’t even bring up statistics because they’re undoubtedly skewed due to the fact that most survivors will never feel safe enough to report their abusers.

I hope that #MeToo will continue to be a catalyst for change and progress but realistically we need to start having more open and honest conversations about the way in which society is skewed to favour men above women and non-binary people. We need to start believing people when they speak up. Even if it’s not convenient.

If you could perform An Organ of Soft Tissue to anyone in the world, who would it be?

E: I would love as many people as possible to see it, as long as it’s a safe experience for them.

R: Anyone who thinks rape culture doesn’t effect them.

What do you hope the audience will take away?

E: I hope the play will make people feel something and give them something to ponder over - whether that's a further examination of rape culture, thoughts about society and power structures, an understanding of trauma, empowerment at seeing experiences you resonate with represented, or empathy for others.

R: At this stage I’m trying not to impose any expectations on the audiences. This play has been an ever changing beast from the first draft to its current form, and it’s grappling with a lot of different emotions, styles and images, so from within it’s difficult to predict how audiences will react or what they will take away. Half the joy is letting the audience respond organically. This first outing of the play is only the beginning of it’s journey as I really think there is potential for a play of this nature to reach audiences where it can really make a difference. However, due to the nature of the themes of the play we are committed to making sure that anyone who does have any strong reactions to the content will have access to a safe space during and after the show, as well as access to helpful information about the services available to you for support. We are incredibly lucky to be working with Shine, New Zealand’s charity aimed at ending domestic violence, who are assisting us with providing easy access to support and resources. We will have donation buckets available during the season to support this vital cause.

An Organ of Soft Tissue is on at Basement Theatre from 05 - 09 Nov. Book tickets or find out more here.