April 2015 coLAB Theme Essay - Violence
FROM THE PAIN, BEAUTY by Colie McClellan
A few weekends ago, I had the pleasure of experiencing a highlight moment of my career as an actor. I was not in a trailer with my name on it. I was not pressing my hands into a Hollywood star. I was not walking down a red carpet.
I was in the community center of a church, and I was saying words like 'abortion' and 'fuck.' I had never said those words in a church before, but I hope I have occasion to do so again. Rather than reciting some angry or political diatribe, I was doing something very simple: I was telling the stories of women who had experienced Intimate Partner Violence, and then talking about it.
Ever since I created the solo show They Call Me Arethusa, my life has been a series of serendipitous opportunities. Performing everywhere from 100 seat theatres on college campuses to 60 seat spaces off Times Square to community centers just like the one I was in two weekends ago, the show has given me voice and a purpose greater than myself. In the acting business, where creating a 'brand' out of your name and headshot can be of the utmost importance in booking work, creating a project with such transcendence has been a lifeline, and finding so many people and communities who support that work has been a true gift.
coLAB Arts brought my project together with the astounding visual artwork of Jennie West, the profound life work of Elaine Hewins, who has spent almost 30 years working in the field of Domestic Violence Awareness & Prevention, and the incredibly moving work of Reverend Susan Kramer-Mills, who has done an amazing thing in transforming a largely unused sanctuary space into apartments for women whose time in a Domestic Violence shelter (30-90 days) is up, and who usually have no place to go except back into the homes of their abuser.
The day was a true blessing, for both myself and the other professionals in the field, and also for those in attendance, who came to lend their ears and their warm support to - although difficult - a topic that is not discussed nearly enough in general, public forums and spaces.
Doing a 50-minute solo performance addressing intimate partner violence isn't easy. Neither is creating devastatingly beautiful art that speaks to it, like Jennie West does in her series titled Paradox of Violence.
In this series she transforms the image of a bullet hole in glass into evocative flowers; from the pain, beauty. These things are about as hard as dedicating your life's work or your church's work to making the lives of victims and survivors better, every day in ways both small and large.
In the first few weeks and months, being a survivor can feel like finally emerging from a pile of rubble. You're fragile, the rocks and dirt tumble away, and the sunlight hurts. But you hope that in time, that the sun will feel wonderful again. You hope that from the pain, there will be beauty. And sometimes, on days like the one coLAB Arts provided to me and the community, the beauty is even more glorious than you could have ever imagined.
Thank you coLAB Arts, for fulfilling such purpose.
Author's note: The title of this piece was taken from Jennie West's presentation accompanying her visual art series, Paradox of Violence.
Homepage Image: P.O.V. 1 by Jennie West