by Avery Daniels Dramaturgy/Education Apprentice
I think The New Electric Ballroom is a story of hope.
Of dealing with trauma and the narratives that we tell ourselves over and over again in order to understand and categorize our experiences and the world around us. The women in The New Electric Ballroom are shut-ins who have been mocked and shunned by their small village. They obsessively engage in the retelling of a traumatic event day after day.
I understand these women more then I wish I did. I understand isolation, turning in in the face of a traumatic event, and the subsequent social fallout of that event. Instead of a romantic entanglement and scandal, for my family, we turned in after my dad passed away. He was our light and our joy and losing him “narrowed” our world. He had AIDS and died in 1998. This was a time when little was known about the disease. The gossip in the show, that of a small fishing village in Ireland, looks a lot to me like the whispers that swirled around us in 90’s suburban California. In the words of Breda, “By their nature, people are talkers.” No one else in my family has HIV, we are all healthy, we were healthy then, and are healthy now. But the people who were our friends talked. They gossiped and they made assumptions about us and turned away from us when they found out about my dad. Even after he passed, we weren’t invited to the potlucks or pool parties…people were too scared even to hug us. So we shunned them like they shunned us. We turned in and we survived. We were safe. At home, my world made sense. I wasn’t the different diseased little girl with no dad, I was just me.
And, like Ada, I found it was hard to leave. I had separation anxiety for far too long. I was glued to my mom’s side at any function. Birthday parties were agony. Sleepovers, hell. And so, I understand the women in this show. I can understand how trauma and gossip could easily lead to an insular life. Looking back, I tell myself stories of this time. Things that I remember, things that my mom remembers, things that my brothers tell me, all mash up into a certain narrative that plays out in my head. In this story, I know my place. My world is ordered. That’s all memories are; stories that we repeat and tell ourselves over and over again. The power that these women are missing is the power to rewrite them. To hear your own story and rethink it. Change the perimeters of the memory and forgive yourself and others in order to move on. Ada, Breda, and Clara won’t let each other change the story, change the past, and so they can’t leave it behind. For me, writing my own story lets me leave it on the page and move forward. I can be in the world now. I am not as broken as I once was. But in the “further recesses of the brain” as Breda puts it, the deepest darkest parts of my psyche, the story’s still there. It hits me when I least expect it. A “lull in the conversation” or pace of my life lets it sneak back in. And so, I connect with these women. Their need to tell the story, their need to keep talking to keep the ghosts at bay; I understand them. I feel a kinship toward them.
And so I hope.
I hope that, like me, one day they won’t be so broken.
I hope that, one day, things for them will change.
*GSC Blog posts are the select opinions of individual employees and may not necessarily reflect the views of Gloucester Stage as a whole.