Foreign Body: Story of hope and healing in Guwahati Theatre Festival 2018
Guwahatians witnessed a striking play on the last day of the recently-concluded Guwahati Theatre Festival. Imogen Butler-Cole brought a powerful, insightful and thought-provoking play for the audience which was especially relevant in the context of the global ‘MeToo’ movement which has recently hit India.
Through the play, Imogen depicts the trauma of sexual assault for the survivors, coming to terms with sexual abuse and the healing process.
Foreign Body was a beautifully crafted debut solo show. It was uniquely told from the perspective of the survivor and perpetrator of the same assault, using a charged combination of verbatim, physical theatre and a stunning original soundtrack. Foreign Body is a brave, liberating and life-affirming story.
The audience at Pragjyoti ITA Centre, Machkhowa, listened with rapt attention as the play progressed and portrayed society’s reaction to survivors of sexual assault and their own journey of understating the trauma and healing.
In the solo act, Imogen used free flowing movements to show the psyche of survivors. The play consisted of her own sexual assault experiences as well as testimonies of other survivors. Interestingly, the play also had a testimony of a perpetrator which Imogen said was used to show that perpetrators are ordinary people we meet in everyday life.
Imogen used minimal props for her performance, one of which was a chair which was used to signify the burden or weight of trauma which the survivors often have to live with.
Talking to G Plus after her performance, Imogen said, “I was very unsure of what to expect, but we had a great time. The audience was very attentive and quiet and reacted to the play really well.”
The artist also conducted an interactive session with the audience after her play to enable conversation on various aspects of sexual abuse which is often brushed under the carpet, especially in India.
“I think it is a very important discussion to have. This is also one of the reasons why I created the play in the first place, in order to have these discussions, to destigmatise the conversation around sexual violence and to encourage conversation around the topic,” she added.
On ‘MeToo’ India movement
Talking about the ‘MeToo’ movement in India which has gained a lot of momentum recently Imogen said, “I think it is so important that we are finally talking about this openly. Unless we are not open about sexuality we will not be able to move past it. This is one brilliant thing that is happening in India and across the world people are speaking up.”
Commenting on the way forward for the movement, she informed that the step is to believe the survivors. She added that often people say the survivors are doing it to attract attention or are making a fuss.
“This leaves very little space to think about the lives that have been influenced by the assault and harassment and we need to think about that extremely seriously,” said Imogen adding that many survivors say that speaking out about their experience of abuse is one of the hardest things that they have ever done in their life. They don’t do it lightly and it is not an easy thing to do.
“It’s not something people do to get attention because the attention that we get from this is not positive,” she emphasised.
Further, talking about the process of healing, the artist stressed on the need to find a community and support groups within the survivors, so that the world at large is able to reflect on the kinds of things that women and men are facing day after day.
She also mentioned that forgiveness is a part of the healing process for survivors. “It is important to forgive to get over the bitterness for one’s own self.”
It was Imogen’s first visit to Guwahati and she said she was looking forward to spending time here. She also had plans to visit Kaziranga National Park.
“I have spent a lot of time in India in the past. I have lived in Mumbai, I was always very curious to visit the northeast and to come to Assam. I have heard so many extraordinary things about the culture, the people and the natural beauty, so I am very excited to spend a few days here,” she told G Plus.
Since it was the first international play which was staged during the three years of the Guwahati Theatre Festival, Imogen said she was honoured to perform here.
“I am thrilled to be here and it is great to see the coming together of culture with plays and performances from different parts of the world.”