Making Art in 2017: Lauren M. Shover on Suicide Stories: Gallery of the Untold
Name: Lauren M. Shover
Company: Elephant Room Productions
Show in 2017 Festival: Suicide Stories: Gallery of the Untold
Role: Director, Company Co-Founder and Artistic Director
Past Festival shows: This is our first!
FringeArts: Tell us about your show.
Lauren M. Shover: It was over a year or so ago that we first started developing the idea of creating a gallery of living art to tell various stories at the same time. We at Elephant Room Productions firmly believe that every story deserves to be told. We wanted to bring that motto to play here by exploring several different relationships to one issue. We first were inspired after watching a youtube performance of “The Destruction Artist,” which is a monologue from A Memory, A Monologue, A Rant and A Prayer, part of The Vagina Monologues project. We were taken by the personal retelling of the story, the breaking the fourth wall and the exposure and vulnerability of the character. We thought about doing a similar project but as theatre rather than film. When it came to thinking of which topic we wanted to address it was not much of a discussion, as we all knew we wanted to talk about suicide. The most reaffirming thing about this project for us has been our experience discussing it with just about anyone and having everyone come back to you with some kind of personal connection to it. It is frighteningly common and also not discussed enough. Even within our company, we have each been touched in some way by this epidemic, even to the extent of the loss of a company member’s sister.
After the concept had become clear to us, we enlisted playwrights from our Elephant Ears Reading Series to write pieces for the production. These playwrights were not only on board with participating but most had personal testimonies to bring to the table to which they wrote about. The pieces each involve additional themes such as bullying, violence, rape, cat-fishing/cyber-bullying and more. A portion of proceeds is being donated to the American Mental Wellness Association to continue to raise awareness and aid prevention efforts for suicide and related issues. In addition, during each performance, donations will be collected for various local organizations geared towards the other various issues we are addressing.
A question we are attempting to tackle is related to the way we handle suicides, how we hear about them, and what we do next. We want to break the stigma by giving the audience members a personal journey and experience with this piece. Not only can patrons explore pieces for as long or as little as they please, truly getting what they want out of each performance, but they are also going to be learning through this experience that these people are not so different from them. We are so numb to hearing suicide statistics, dates, ages, etc. We want to show the audience the people, the lives, and the stories behind the numbers.
FringeArts: How have your interests in or approach to art making changed in the last year?
Lauren M. Shover: Within the past year, we started our Elephant Ears Reading Series, which is a playwriting development series starting with a simple read through/discussion and ending with a staged-reading of a piece. Our goal with this is to help facilitate the creation of new, current art in this world. Our desires in creating theatre as a company are rarely ever focused on recycling previously created art. We strive to develop, edit, transform, and create new art as a collaborative group. Since the start of our company, we have always focused on addressing the “elephant in the room,” by producing projects that focus on important societal topics, such as: addiction, immigration, prejudice, PTSD, mental health stigma, etc. We also believe that with as little as we have, we should always give back for the greater good. I firmly believe that art should be used to create positive change; it should be used for something other than just entertainment and that is what we at Elephant Room Productions strive to do. Within the past year, society’s desire to be more outspoken and stand up for what they believe has been thriving. The personal approach to issues and how they affect individuals has also been increasingly more popular and craved. People want to come see shows they can believe in and that can truly make a difference. By telling these stories and giving back in the way we do, we are keeping the fight alive and keeping these issues at the forefront of everyone’s minds.
FringeArts: Tell us about an instance from 2017 when your interaction with art provided some much needed solace or refuge from outside troubles.
Lauren M. Shover: Exploring the various topics we choose to explore has always been a form of solace for myself as well as the other elephants in our herd. As the “outside world” continues to change before our eyes, the issues that have always plagued our society continue to do so. Our exploration of these issues has been our main purpose and will always continue to be. The topics we address change with the times and therefore allow us to find new points of view, new connections and new discoveries with the various issues we as a society seek refuge from. One instance for me was actually very recent. During the Suicide Stories: Gallery of the Untold process, a singer/songwriter whom I have always connected very deeply with from childhood to my adult life, Chester Bennington of Linkin Park, hung himself. My favorite memories, biggest inspirations, and most meaningful breakthroughs happened while listening to his music. I always felt very connected to the words expressed in the songs. They make you feel like you know the people behind the lyrics. The news hit me like I had just heard a close friend and role model had died; not only died but had taken his life. Losing someone who inspired me and also helped me reach depths within myself that I could only do through the exploration of music was very difficult and is still difficult for me to come to terms with. However, I have to find ways to allow this loss to fuel me and reaffirm for me the extreme importance of addressing a topic that affects everyone no matter your age, race, ethnicity, religious or political affiliation. Together we can truly create positive change in the darkness and continue to provide solace for those suffering and refuge for those in need.
Suicide Stories: Gallery of the Untold
Elephant Room Productions
$15-20 / 120 minutes, Feel free to come and go as you please
September 12th-17th at 6pm, 12th-16th at 8:30pm, 16th-17th at 2pm @ Asian Arts Initiative, 1219 Vine St