Warning: This article contains references to sexual assault.
Theatre makers Holland Brooks and Abigael Russel say they’re making art from “a scar not a wound”, using their personal experiences as inspiration for their latest production Bad Feminist.
Sitting in the dual role as the show’s director and co-writer, Holland tells us about the events that provided stimulus for writing the show.
“Abi approached me with the idea for Bad Feminist in late 2021. We both had ex-boyfriends who were accused of sexual assault in high school. The idea came from a personal place of reflection and realising that we both approached the situation differently and how shockingly common it is.”
From this initial discussion about their shared experiences, Abi and Holland found themselves further reflecting on the common attitudes and behaviours of feminists in such situations.
“It inspired a lot of thought about the intersection between sexual assault culture and our personal identity as feminists and intersectional feminists. In particular looking at bystander culture.”
Holland explains that bystander culture is the “notion that making a choice is still a choice.” “There seems to be this kind of overwhelming response of ‘Oh, if I just ignore it then I’m not a part of it’.”
Both Holland and Abi knew that whatever direction this work went in that it needed a fresh tone to have an impact on audiences. “Oftentimes, discussions and work around the topic of sexual assault culture and bystander culture are very dark, heavy, aggressive and quite inaccessible; particularly for people who have lived experience with this topic.”
This led Holland to consider using the format of a chick-flick on stage as the vessel for this story, “In using the chick-flick format we wanted to bring levity and accessibility. So, we can talk about these issues without retraumatising people in the audience.”
“This issue is so deeply entrenched in people’s lives it’s vital to talk about but to talk about it in a way that is approachable and doesn’t create barriers to people accessing the content.”
A cast of four including Abigael Russell, Rhiannon Bryan, Harrison Lorenz-Daniel and Harper Nguyen will be bringing Holland and Abi’s concept to life which will be presented in a “Groundhog Day style”.
“Audrey, our protagonist, gets a call from a mutual friend of her and her boyfriend. From the moment of getting this call, and finding out he’s been accused of sexual assault, we cycle through 20 completely different scenarios as to how she could approach this and figure out what happens.”
Holland reveals that these 20 different scenarios will explore unexpected outcomes. “Some of the scenarios are really quite absurd. Like the boyfriend chokes on an éclair and he dies. Some of them are a bit more plausible towards reality, exploring breakups and consequences.”
Through creating Bad Feminist Holland hopes to show that sexual assault is not a clear-cut issue, and no one holds all the answers.
“The show is about interrogating sexual assault culture, from people who claim to be educated about it. What we’re trying to rip open through the work are unconscious or internal biases that come from particularly the political left and people who want to do the right thing but aren’t always able to do that because of personal biases, lack of education on the topic or for a million reasons. We want to figure out if there is a right answer, I’m not sure it exists but I think it’s important to interrogate every possible answer.”
Of course, no chick-flick is complete without a few cliches, which Holland confirms will be plentiful “Expect a whole lot of pink and a whole lot of tech!”. Bad Feminist Presented by Sailing With Styx is on from Jan 31 to Feb 4 at The Blue Room Theatre.