Festival Fatale – Lisa chats with Lana Schwarcz. (Theatre interview)
Festival Fatale: Lovely Lady Lump
Eternity Theatre, 27 October. You can grab more info about the festival as well as tickets here.
The important and exciting Festival Fatale is on again at The Eternity Playhouse in Darlinhurst tomorrow, and I was lucky enough to catch the HILARIOUS (and astonishningly bright) Lana Schwarcz. I have written about the festival here, but best I get out of the way and let you engage with Lana’s wonderful words below.
LT: Comedy is a wonderful way to discuss unpalatable subjects but it plays into a stereotype of the tragic comedian. How has making a show about breast cancer helped you deal with your own breast cancer?
LS: Hahaha! Oh god you are so right. Yes it does. But more tragic would be if I cried about it and didn’t find the comedy. If you don’t laugh and find a way to float on top of the “sea of shit” you sink, right? Comedy is not just my profession but it’s also my coping mechanism. Holy moley. I’ve turned my coping mechanism into my career. What a pity that coping mechanisms don’t pay much. But before this, I just played into the stereotype of the tragic SINGLE female comedian. Another tragic stereotype. But that’s a stereotype for a reason. Most of us ARE single (waaaah). And comedy has a grand tradition of plucking itself from tragedy. It’s the phoenix that rises from the ashes of the perennially bullied child, the housewife who wasn’t allowed to reach her full potential, the divorced man dealing with missing his family. I’m a staunch environmentalist and just as I try to reuse or make new things from discarded rubbish, I think comedians take the used up crusts of life that would otherwise cause massive landfill in the dumping holes of our hearts and we recycle it into something useful.
Re: your second part to that question.
Obviously, the more you talk about things the more that talk helps you deal with subjects that terrify you and dispel other icky emotions like shame. I think that’s probably why male comedians always talk about being caught masturbating. But ultimately, I believe that yes, revealing my true thoughts about the experience on stage every night has left me with a better balanced perspective on things. It also gives me a public forum to get on my soapbox about minor (or major) annoyances surrounding cancer – for god’s sakes, PLEASE stop calling it a journey. It’s not a journey. It’s a hostage experience.
A lot of people come up to me after seeing the show to share their own experiences, so I try to make the time to be with them if I can. One woman in Regina, Canada, told me that no one knew she had gone through breast cancer. She burst into tears and said she went through it all alone. She was ashamed about it so didn’t talk to ANYONE – not even her family knew – she hid the whole thing. And now, 8 years later, still traumatized and unable to get over the experience, she told me (after seeing the show) that maybe she had made the wrong decision to keep it a secret. That maybe she made a mistake. I sat with her for about an hour after the show. I don’t always have the time to do that. I told her that I was not a counsellor. That I was not qualified to truly help her. But that I could listen to her now and hold her hand and that everyone deals with their experiences really differently and that she made the right decision for her at the time, but she could choose to do whatever she wants with it now.
But a lot of people ask me if this has helped as therapy. The short answer is yes. But actual therapy would have cost less. (Making a show is expensive!)
LT: From your experience what is the worst thing a friend of someone going through breast cancer can do when trying to be supportive?
LS: Tell you it’s a gift! Or a journey! Or try to make it sound better than it is! No no no no no.
Here are some things you CAN do:
Call it what it is. It’s a shit situation and tell them you’ll be there for them when they’re needed. If your person is working out what diet they wish to follow during that time, find out what it is and make them some food. Offer to clean the house. Practical things. Practical practical. But whatever you do, don’t try to make it sound better or put a bow on it. Calling it a journey makes it sound like you’re heading off for your gap year and they’re there to wave you off at the gate. No. Stop that. We need to stop that. Putting a bow on a shit sandwich that you still have to eat doesn’t make it better, it just means you now have to chew through and digest the ribbon. It also diminishes what the person is going through. Just be there for them. Or give them space. Laugh with them when they make gallows humour. Yell Fuck Cancer with them. That’s what we want. (Well, that’s what I want anyway). Ask what they want and what they need. Though having said that, most people don’t want to be a burden on their friends and most will want to keep working through their treatment as it helps to keep you sane, so they may not tell you what they need. But my favourite moments were when friends just came over with a DVD in hand or a box of bananas to make me banana smoothies.
LT: What was your most surreal experience after being diagnosed with breast cancer?
LS: I had no idea how the staff had zero awareness of the “entertainment” that they play while you are either going through treatment of waiting for treatment. The show presents this is a fun way so I don’t want to give away too much, but checking what music is on your shuffle before playing it through the radiation machine is probably a good idea…. Hearing “Sexual Healing” come through the tinny speakers as my left breast was being radiated was a special moment for me.
LT: How did being diagnosed with breast cancer impact your feminism?
LS: Interesting question. It certainly left me feeling vulnerable – I was single at the time and when you first get diagnosed you have no idea what will need to happen – the doctors don’t know either at that point. So your mind tends to wander to, “Oh my god, I’m going to lose my breasts and my hair, and maybe my smile – the three things that make me most attractive to a man” – hang on WHAT?????
So this dichotomy of wanting to continue to play the attraction game, yet the feminist side of me going NOOOOO!!! A MAN SHOULD WANT TO BE WITH YOU BECAUSE OF YOUR INSIDES! NOT YOUR BREASTS OR YOUR HAIR SO NONE OF THIS SHOULD MATTER! That left me just feeling very confused. Because it’s very multi-faceted – to not acknowledge the duelling and very opposing qualities of each of these things (and to be honest, most things going on in our world these days) is to be partisan to the point that you make dangerous mistakes. Big hair and boobs are also part of my brand identity I suppose, so that fed into it as well. In a way it did sadden me somewhat that one of my first worries was about how this would affect my sexual attractiveness by men. But I also accept that I am a sexual being as well as a feminist and that those two things are in no way mutually exclusive.
My breasts are very desexualized in the show though!
LT: Why is it important for you to be a part of a women’s only festival that displays female identified and specific performance art?
LS: I am female, so I represent a female perspective and voice. Is it a “woman’s story”? Well I am a woman and it’s my story so maybe it is? But it’s a human story. I do get frustrated that men don’t go to see women’s stories as much as women see men’s stories. I have a firm belief that seeing stories develops empathy, and that therefore, the more men see women’s stories on stage, on screen, in literature, the more that disrespect for and violence against women will lower. Hopefully. That’s my theory anyway, and I’m sticking with it until I’m proven wrong. So I’m very proud to be supporting that movement towards getting more women’s stories out there. I’m only one of them. I don’t see this as “Female only”, I see it as a showcase of women’s work in a world where there may only be one (two if you are lucky) women on a showcase lineup.