With a title like the fully capitalized SHIT, you know you’re in for something provocative, and Australian playwright Patricia Cornelius makes no excuses for any of it.
Examining the lives of a trio of incarcerated underclass women, SHIT is about these three women who spit, fight, swear, hurt and steal. Angry, unrelenting, terrifying, and damaged, these women don’t believe in anything. According to Cornelius, “these women are considered shit, they think they’re shit, their lives have been nothing but shit.”
In part one of our two-part series, we find out more in the Q&A with playwright, Patricia Cornelius.
Warning: this interview contains strong language. This interview has been edited and condensed.
Where did the idea for SHIT come from?
The three SHIT women came from a workshop run by three female directors with three female playwrights and three female actors investigating the absence of powerful women in the theatre, and the need to give them the material to take the stage back with gusto.
Why did you choose SHIT for its title?
Don’t know if Canadians use the word as much as we do. Australians use it a lot. A lot of people are relegated to shit. These women are considered shit, they think they’re shit, their lives have been nothing but shit. I like the title – it’s provocative for sure. It’s also a warning of sorts. If you can’t handle the title you’re certainly not going to handle the other vernacular or the content.
Do you believe the world is shit?
I sort of do. We do our best to believe it’s not, but the shit we pour into the environment and the shit we load on our young people and the way we think the old should be dumped into shitful places and the shit that continues with racism and homophobia and the shit that women endure and the load of shit we’re meant to believe from our lying leaders and the shit of the misery of refugees. On and on shit. Forget the, “I sort of do.”
One critic said SHIT challenges audiences to “engage with the unpleasant realities of our society”. Was that your end goal as playwright?
It sounds a bit polite for me. I think theatre is definitely about being engaged by the ideas, being shaken up a bit, considering the world for a while. The three SHIT women are rare birds in the theatre. I think they remind us about class, about the many who are forsaken.
You wrote SHIT in 2015. With fourth-wave feminist movements like the Women’s March and more recently #MeToo, do you see your play having more relevance in 2018 than it did just three years ago?
There’s been movement for some time with a renewed interest in women in theatre. I don’t think this focus makes my play more relevant. More people might go see it maybe.
Does it matter to you the title will turn off some theatre-goers?
Not at all. It annoys me when people are shocked or offended or believe that somehow the language is debased by swearing. I love swearing. I grew up with it. Sure, if someone is hammered with it, it becomes a bit tedious but used well it has tremendous power. You watch the way our heart quickens and we nervously bury our heads in books when someone lets loose with the fucks and cunts on the bus or the train. The title is there to warn you: the language is powerful.
You were once called “theatre’s most unapologetic playwright”. Was that a fair comment? If so, do you remain unapologetic?
Makes me laugh this one. I’m not sure what us playwrights are meant to be sorry for. But if it’s about me saying stuff that offends, I don’t deliberately do that. I’m not trying to shock anyone. The world can be a shocking place, often in fact, and what makes better drama than to examine the world at its most shocking, at its most contradictory, at its most inhumane?
SHIT plays the Firehall Arts Centre (280 East Cordova St, Vancouver) January 27-February 10. Visit https://firehallartscentre.ca for tickets and information.