Thursday, August 3, 2017

Airswimming: Notes From the Playwright

Playwright Charlotte Jones has published two different sets of author's notes for Airswimming, one from the original production in 2004 and one for the more recently published edition of the script from Samuel French. Both offer some interesting insight into the creation of the play. 

In 2004: 

"I always start with an image. With Airswimming I saw a woman trying to trepan herself with a hand whisk. I happened to read a book about the injustices committed against the mentally ill: “A Miss Kitson and a Miss Baker were placed in a Hospital for the Criminally Insane in the 1920s for bearing illegitimate children and not released until the 1970s.” That was the line that started me writing. There was something terribly moving to me in hearing their names – genteel English names, the names of posh girls who should be coming out into society, not being incarcerated for being out of wedlock. Those names with the dismissive and distancing ‘a’ before them – ‘a Miss Kitson and a Miss Baker’ reading those names was the trigger to wanting to write their story. A story about bad girls trying to be good – a world where it seemed inevitable to me that Doris Day should become the patron saint of all that is wholesome and perfect and feminine.” 

Ms. Jones goes on to say that when writing she starts with the title and then writes the story. About the title of Airswimming she says “[i]t expressed perfectly to me the emancipation that the two women find in each other in a world where they are denied the simple act of coming up for air – and yet still they swim!”

In the recent edition: 

"Airswimming is a comedy about despair. It was inspired by the various true stories of women who were placed in mental institutions in the 1920s because they had given birth to illegitimate children, or for other spurious reasons such as they were deaf, lesbian, or merely "atypical." Some of these women were not released until the 1970s when a lot of the Victorian mental institutions closed down as the great age of pharmacology had dawned. It is a meditation on stasis, on being stuck in a hopeless situation and the salvation that is to be found only in friendship.

The dance and song elements are crucial to the sense of joy that the play can bring in performance. DORA and PERSEPHONE find each other and remain essentially free even though they are incarcerated because of the pleasure and solace they find in each other’s company. As Viktor Frankl wrote so movingly in his book Man’s Search for Meaning: “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” DORA and PERSEPHONE manage to save each other and
transform into DORPH and PORPH in order to survive."

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