Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: The play, Shattered, is currently appearing as part of the Hollywood Fringe Festival. What inspired you to tell this story, and how would you describe your creative process in bringing it to life?
Diana Varco: Following my sexual assault, I would often end up in improv classes or stand-up shows where people would joke about and mock rape. I even had an open mic host do an extended bit about fictionally raping me - by name. Needless to say these experiences re-traumatized me and became obstacles in pursuing my comedy career. For years, I wanted to write a show that explained the emotional pain I was going through - in hopes it would help people have more awareness and empathy for the multitude of people that experience sexual assault and molestation. I believe comedy is an amazing vehicle to talk about the darkest subjects, so the problem wasn't that people were joking about rape - it was HOW they were joking about rape. It was comedy aimed at attacking the victim or recipient, instead of the perpetrator or ideology supporting rape culture. It furthered the cycle of silence and shame that allows the crime to occur in the first place.
In order to write a show, though, I would have to tell secrets I had buried my entire life, and that was something I didn't want to do. I actually avoided doing so for years. Then, I met my director Jessica Lynn Johnson and I knew I needed to face my fear. I started reluctantly, at first, going to her weekly free classes but not really putting anything together until an opportunity to perform at the 2017 Whitefire Theatre Festival presented itself. I started private coaching sessions with my director, Jessica Lynn Johnson, on November 8 - election day - and set a performance date for Jan 25th at the Whitefire Theatre Festival. Jessica and I discussed major moments and themes from my life and, although I wanted to talk about sexual assault, I knew it wasn't the full story. A lifetime of people asking me what was wrong with me and why I didn't date much quickly became a jumping-off point to tell my story. Quickly, Shame became the opening character to start our journey and, from there, other characters popped up to offer their perspective. The version presented at the Hollywood Fringe Festival is almost the same version as the one performed at the Whitefire premiere but with deeper character development and minor changes/cuts.
Character development often started with a voice or a certain vision of the body of the character. For instance, Truth is a nerdy turtle, and I worked with my director Jessica to deepen and sharpen characters and their distinctive poses. I relied heavily on my improv and sketch background developed at Groundlings and UCB to write scenes between the characters and then worked with Jessica to format them into a solo theatre structure.
BD: Given that the performance is a one-woman show, how do you balance the workload of performing over 35 characters within the production, and do you feel that the various roles enhance your creative process?
DV: The characters are taken from my life but also from my head. I personify different emotions like Shame, Truth, and Denial, along with many others. They help to create the tug of war so many of us feel between how we feel in our hearts vs. our heads vs. the messages that have been told to us. They also help to create comedy in places that otherwise might feel stagnant or too hard to talk about and provide a necessary vehicle to move the story forward, creating a dynamic, fast pace rhythm for the show. The story could be told in a very dark way, but the characters help bring an element of whimsy to it, while also heightening the darker moments by bringing out more vicious or destructive characters. They allow for people to digest the story and not get turned off by the difficult subjects I talk about.
The characters also become a way to take control of emotions and feelings that might feel overwhelming. Now when I feel shame, I play Shame instead - and it turns the moment into a story, rather than a downward spiral into feeling badly. It's really cool to talk to people after the show and hear who they identified with most. I tend to be very nervous, so for me it's Mortified, although in prepping for Hollywood Fringe I had a lot of fun with Shame. People tend to like Denial a lot, too!
BD: What do you hope that audiences will take away from the show?
DV: I hope that audiences will take away an awareness of the variety of ways that sexual boundaries can be crossed and how that affects us as children and adults. I hope that people will think twice about treating rape as a joke, because although the show has comedic moments, rape is anything but funny. I also hope that parents and other authority figures will think twice about the effect their actions and decisions have on the people their supposed to protect. I hope that men and women will question the notion of consent and approach it in a healthy, mutual way. Mostly, I hope that people will leave with an understanding of the deep psychological fall out of sexual violence and an understanding that it doesn't always look how we expect it to. Often, it's confusing and shocking and hard to explain - and so is the very long healing process. I hope that people won't treat rape frivolously and will question the skewed rape culture that is so prevalent in our society. I hope that victims/survivors won't accept silence and that they know there is a pathway through what seemed to me to be a never-ending forest. And although I still hurt, I am no longer Shattered.
BD: What makes the Hollywood Fringe Festival an ideal venue for Shattered?
DV: Hollywood Fringe is an ideal venue for Shattered because of the fantastic community and engaging atmosphere. There are happy hours to network at and various events through out the festival to draw buzz for the show. Fringe central is a great place to make new friends, too! I've seen some amazing shows, made great friends, and am really grateful to have this experience!
BD: The show will be appearing at the Sacred Fools Theater Black Box through June 24, 2017. Are there any future plans to perform the show at other venues?
DV: Shattered will run June 3rd thru June 24th. The remaining performance date is June 24th at 9:30 p.m. at Sacred Fools Black Box Theater (6322 Santa Monica Blvd.) I also will be performing Shattered at the United Solo Festival in New York City on September 19th at 9 p.m. on Theater Row. And I'm in talks to do the show later in the fall. My hope is to continue to perform Shattered at least a couple times a year and to tour colleges and conferences as well. I believe it has an important message and is of value for both men and women to see.
BD: Are there any upcoming projects that you would care to share with our readers?
DV: I help to run a monthly all-female variety hour called Ladies Night Fempire at the Clubhouse (3rd Thursday of each month at 10 p.m.) and UCB Inner Sanctum (4th Monday of each month at 8:30 p.m.). It's a variety show (created in 2012) that champions female comedians and ends with a big, all -emale improv jam. Men are welcome to come cheer on the funny, awesome female performers, too!
Also, I did a Sexual Assault Awareness campaign in April called #takebacktheskirt. Ever since the assault in 2009, I've been terrified to wear dresses/skirts. I've worn them but not without fear. So, for April 2017, I wore a skirt/dress every day and posted about my experience on social media. It was a really amazing experience!
BD: Lastly, what would you like to tell readers who want to learn more about and purchase tickets for Shattered?
DV: If you'd like to learn more about Shattered, go to http://hff17.com/4380 or follow me @shatteredsolo. More information and updates after the festival can be found at www.dianavarco.com.