The Penelopiad, a play by Margaret Atwood, opens this week at the Huron Historic Gaol in Goderich, Ontario where I live. Presented by the Goderich Little Theatre and directed by David Armour, the play is a fundraiser for the Huron Women’s Shelter, Huron County Museum and Historic Gaol and The Livery Theatre. It is a retelling of The Odyssey, the story of Odysseus. This version is told from the perspective of his wife Penelope who waits 20 years for her husband’s return while warding off hordes of lustful suitors with the help of her maids who experience violence and sexual assault in the process. Set in Hades, the cast of 13 women play a variety of roles through song, movement, word and dance to tell Penelope’s compelling story.
It is a deeply moving play and isn’t always easy to watch or hear. Stories of gender violence never are. In Ontario, on average 30 women die each year from femicide. Ontario Association of Interval and Transition Houses publishes an annual list that includes a brief story about women who have died. You can find the list for 2016 here. This year, it contains the names of 32 women.
As set designer, I worked in collaboration with the cast and crew to develop elements for the set. While brainstorming ways to represent the field of flowers of Asphodel that grow in Hades we decided to make our flowers out of clay in memory of women who have died in acts of gender violence. Inspired by last year’s Huron County Poppy Project, we sought the expertise of ceramic artist, Ruth Anne Merner who led a group of volunteers in the creation of the poppies. She agreed to have us at her studio for a day where we were able to make 58 newly designed clay flowers.
We had a great day learning from Ruth and working together.
After firing, at Tony Eyamie’s studio in Holmesville, the flowers were painted, glued together, sealed and then installed on site at the gaol ready to play their part. Overall, 20 women were involved in the process.
When the play closes, the flowers will go to those who have one reserved by making a $40 donation to the Huron Women’s Shelter. To reserve yours contact Barbara Kane at 519 441 1421. There will also be a blind auction for my framed poster artwork throughout the run of the play.
The Penelopiad opens on Wednesday, July 5 with an Opening Gala starting at 7:30pm and then runs July 7,8,9 14,15 16 at 8:30pm. Click here to purchase tickets.