Posted 12.14.17 | By Cate McKim | Comments

Anna Chatterton is a one-woman dynamo! A librettist, playwright and performer, she wowed audiences last season with her solo show Quiver, a multimedia journey of a young teen navigating life in the crossfire of family drama between her mother and older sister. We asked Anna about her experience working with Nightwood, and her current project.

Tell us about your experience working with Nightwood

Nightwood Theatre gave me my first professional training and opportunity. I was selected to be part of the inaugural Write from the Hip program for emerging female playwrights. During my time in the program, I discovered my voice as a writer. The environment of Nightwood was incredibly supportive, providing a safe space to take artistic risks.

A decade and more later, I continue to find Nightwood to be that same safe space to take artistic risks. What arises from such a close and welcoming setting is the best possible recipe for creativity—the ability to write uninhibited, with honesty, with freedom to be brazen and bold, to experiment without fear of failure.

What are you working on right now?

Heroine is a verbatim play, starring myself and Iranian artist Shahrzad Arshadi. The play is inspired by the Kurdish Female Fighters—the Women’s Protection Unit (YPJ) in Syria.

In May, Shahrzad and I will be travelling to Iraqi Kurdistan in the Qandil Mountains, a training and retreat camp for the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (known as the PKK). We will live with the fighters for two weeks. I will be interviewing the fighters and incorporating that journey and experience into the play.

My play is a dissection of appropriation, privilege and feminism. It is also an examination of female courage, a trait I have never personally identified with. I have always thought of myself as a scaredy-cat and I am drawn to the stories of women like the Kurdish female fighters because of their fearlessness.

What was your inspiration for the piece?

A few years ago, I watched a documentary about the Peshmerga—Kurdish Female Fighters— in battle with the Islamic State. There are many women’s battalions across the Kurdistan regions. All of them are volunteers. They receive no funding from the international community and the women are reliant on the Kurdish community for supplies and food. It is said among Kurds that a female soldier is particularly potent as the Islamic State are said to fear the idea of being killed by a woman because they believe they would then not go to heaven. 

I was completely captivated by these fearless women fighting back against the Islamic State or central governments, fighting to save their culture and their country. Kurdish women also turn to the army to escape abusive marriages or other forms of repression women continue to face. The unit provides an alternative network for women who might struggle in Kurdish communities, because despite being relatively more liberal than many Islamic societies, it is still quite conservative.

Last year I met Shahrzad Arshadi. A human rights activist and artist Shahrzad was born in Iran and came to Canada as a political refuge over thirty years ago. She works as an artist, photographer and documentary filmmaker in Montreal. Shahrzad has concentrated much of her work on the Kurdish female freedom fighters. Last year Shahrzad travelled to Iraqi Kurdistan in the Qandil Mountains, a training and retreat camp for the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (known as the PKK) and lived with the fighters in various camps over the course of two months. Some of the women she met are now the subject of Shahrzad’s documentary Dangbej (which mean singer/storyteller).

Shahrzad and I have been Skyping bi-weekly for the past year. As our discussions deepened I began to record and transcribe our conversations. This brought about the discovery that it seems integral to actually have both Shahrzad and myself on stage. I will write the text of the play, both verbatim and original. Shahrzad is fully invested as a cultural consultant and collaborator for the play’s narrative.

Anything you want to shout out?

I am super excited to see Nightwood’s upcoming production of Audrey Dwyer’s play Calpurnia.

Anna Chatterton’s Playwright in Residence was made possible by a grant from Canada Council.

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