Their experiences are extensive and diverse, but their voices are often neglected. Although just as crippled by past and on-going conflicts, the views, fears and concerns they hold have largely been ignored. Now, their stories are being told.
Before the onset of the Iranian Revolution, Lanna Joffrey’s family fled to London, where they settled, hoping the Iran they knew would return. As time went on, and the aftermath of the revolution continued, they moved to the United States where other family members had sought refuge.
Inspired by her own experience of war, and enchanted by the tales of other women who lived through them, Lanna was deeply moved by the verbatim interviews documented in Sally Hayton-Keeva’s book, “Valiant women in war and exile”.
When Joffrey discovered that most of the women in Sally’s book had never before shared their war stories, she spotted a similar pattern in her own life, and knew the accounts had to be kept alive in her stage play adaptation, “Valiant”.
As the performance now enters its final week, as a part of the month long “Women and war festival” at The So and So Arts Club, Lanna Joffrey tells The Prisma why she decided to depict thirteen women’s personal struggles throughout various twentieth century conflicts:
Why is it important to tell the woman’s story in war?
If we are going to understand the narrative of war, it is important to understand fifty percent of the population. The female narrative rarely gets brought to the forefront. We are doing a disservice to ourselves in understanding why we keep going to war.
Women have a lot of experiences. Some are adamant that war should not happen. Some say we should go to war – that it is the only way to fight certain groups of people. For others, it depends on who the enemy is, whether we can find peace without having to be the last resort.
How did you put the script of your play together?
Sally Hayton-Keeva travelled for five years and interviewed women using a cassette recorder. She then transcribed the interviews and published thirty-eight of them into a book. I asked her if I could have the rights to adapt the book into a play.
I took thirteen of the interviews and asked Sally to write additional material about how she found these women. What you see projected on the screen are her words. I did not write any of it. I was just the carver, the shaper.
It is all verbatim text. It is the words of the women. I have just adapted it into a dramatic structure. I saw parallels in the interviews and thought sitting the women next to each other was an important way to highlight that we are losing people on both sides. For opposite sides, it is the same experience. I felt compelled to push that message forward.
Why did you choose those thirteen interviews?
I call it the “I did not know that” factor. I chose the ones that were unheard of. I never knew what happened on the first day at Auschwitz, or about flight attendants that flew Vietnam soldiers back and forth. You do not think about those war stories, but they are war stories, and important aspects of what happens.
In the play only four women act out thirteen different roles. Was that a challenge?
Yes. We wanted to be authentic on the accents, and to represent them as honestly as possible. For me, it was important to push the universality of these women.
It is important to have women portraying other women on stage that they would never believably portray. It helps us to understand how universal these stories are – that you and I are the same when it comes to a war story.
Throughout the entire play, the only things on stage are the four women, four chairs, and the writing on the projector behind them. Why is the stage left so bare?
We wanted the stories to speak for themselves – to let them stand alone.
Why were you interested in twentieth century war?
These are stories from the twentieth century, but they parallel the twenty first century. The mother who lost her son in the war in Vietnam is the same as the mother who lost her son in the war in Afghanistan.
The Afghani refugee is the same as the Syrian refugee. We can question if we have changed: Have things gotten better? Have we learnt anything from the twentieth century?
What was the most enjoyable part in creating this play?
The idea of bringing women to the forefront of war. I read Sally’s book when I was 16-years -old and it blew my mind. To me, the narrative of war had been a male narrative. It was the president that put us in war, and the soldiers who fought. I never knew that even my mother had a war story.
What do you want the audience to take away from the play?
A lot of the time, war is a thing happening far away. We can choose to forget about it, and think it is not there. I want the audience to think about it and decide what their stance is. What would you do in a time of war? Do you believe in it? Is it necessary? What woman do you agree with?