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Monday, May 30, 2011

The Upstage Interview: Veronica Russell

“It is perfectly clear to me that life is not worth living, but it is also equally clear that life is worth talking about.” –E. Gertrude Beasley

Upstage and CharPo contributor Sarah Deshaies spoke with Veronica Russell about Texpatriate Productions presentation of A Different Woman as part of 2011 Fringe Festival. Below is an abridged version of the interview, edited by Estelle Rosen, CharPo Editor-in-Chief.

Beasley wrote candidly about her childhood, strange upbringing and dysfunctional family. Her story was published, subsequently banned, eventually she was institutionalized. Incredible story. How did you discover Beasley?

Really it was a fluke. A writer friend told me an essay of his was being covered in an anthology titled Lone Star Literature, produced by the University of Texas press. Basically  a survey of sexist literature throughout history, fiction and non-fiction, with excerpts and essays. My friend suggested  I pick  up a copy. I did and it  happens there was also an excerpt from Beasley’s autobiography.

The forward contained some background of her life.  I was hooked on this stunning story. 

One of the reasons she’s not well known is that the book was banned in Europe and the United States.

Did you know right away it would be a one woman show?

No. My intention was to adapt her story, written in such dark specific humour, into a play. But as I continued to read the book, it became clear that it had to be a one woman show, using her angle on things, her phrases, her voice,  and her unique way of speaking. 

Here’s a woman who had a dramatic lifestory, yet not well known. What was it about her story you wanted to share and convey?

One of the reasons she’s not well known is that the book was banned in Europe and the United States. Almost all the copies were destroyed in British and American customs offices. She was arrested for no specific charge. No reason was ever given for banning her book. They used the general term of gross obscenity. The authorities had her institutionalized for the rest of her life.

Having read it, I can see that around that time in the 1920s,  it wasn’t only her outspoken unapologetic approach. Rather it was her dark humour in talking about horrific subjects as bestiality and incest that was disturbing to the authorities. If she had been melodramatic – poor me – they wouldn’t have had as much trouble with her candid approach. They couldn’t handle that. 

If she wrote it today, it wouldn’t get internationally banned...

Do you think if it was published today, it would receive as much attention? 

There are some things she writes in this book I have never seen anyone write like that. If she wrote it today, it wouldn’t get internationally banned, and she wouldn’t be institutionalized, but it would still raise some eyebrows. When I do the show now it raises eyebrows

I submitted this to a well known women’s theatre festival. They recognized the work is great, but inappropriate for their festival. 

What’s interesting is I get that response on one hand; yet people come to my show and ask if I’d consider taking it to high schools.

June 10-19, Montreal Fringe
For more CharPo coverage of the Fringe, head to our aggregator

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