Airswimming by Charlotte Jones
August 13 – 15, 17 – 21 at the Campus Saint-Jean Auditorium
An interview with Kendra Connor.
Describe the show in five words.
Freedom in flights of fancy.
Okay, now that we’re intrigued… what’s the longer description?
Airswimming, by first-rate Irish playwright Charlotte Jones (Humble Boy, In Flame), is a poignant, darkly funny story inspired by generations of British women who were incarcerated for sexual freedom and individuality.
1924. St. Dymphna’s Hospital for the Criminally Insane. Abandoned by their families and allowed to speak for just one hour each day, two women form the unlikeliest of friendships in the harshest of times. Dora, a “deviant,” longs to be one of the boys while Persephone, a “moral imbecile,” reels from the loss of love and a baby born out of wedlock. Together they cling to sanity, keeping each other afloat with flights of fancy and a divine reverence for the movies of Doris Day, patron saint of all that is good and wholesome.
How did you come across the script for Airswimming?
Amy DeFelice came across it looking for scripts to produce at the Serca Festival of Irish Theatre. We had been struggling to find roles for young women in the Irish cannon. Those roles do exist but very rarely in the smaller, two or three-person format we needed. We couldn’t afford to do a big cast show like Dancing at Lughnasa, which has several great parts for ladies. Amy gave me Airswimming and I knew we had to do it.
The two characters in Airswimming are in a pretty extreme situation together—can you talk about the relationship between the two women?
The bond between these two women is at the core of this play. Dora and Persephone might never have become friends in their ordinary lives but trapped in the harsh reality of St. Dymphna’s, they must band together to keep each other sane. They come to need each other desperately—when one starts to despair, the other must build her back up again. The show is really about how these two women support each other. They do this with great humour, affection, and some pretty wild fantasies.
It’s a fascinating relationship to play out onstage. Jenny McKillop and I are great friends in real life. We’re constantly watching each other in scenes and thinking, “What does she need? How can I help?” We’re thinking these things both as actors and as longtime friends. It’s become a very intuitive onstage relationship. I think that’s unique.
Airswimming is a period piece—what do you think today’s audiences can take away from the show?
The play asks us, “How should a woman behave?” While attitudes towards women have certainly shifted since 1924, that’s a question we’re still grappling with in 2016. Of course, we don’t incarcerate women anymore for expressing their individuality but we have found other ways to stigmatize behaviour that goes against the grain. Airswimming is a reflection of that.
It’s also rare to find a play about female friendship, especially one where the women get to be funny. No one is fighting over a man here and we certainly don’t waste time tearing each other down. This is a play about women supporting women, and that is a beautiful thing. We pass the Bechdal Test with flying colours!
Anything else you want audiences to know about the show?
We’ve very happy to be presenting our show in the air-conditioned Auditorium at Campus St. Jean, which is located in Edmonton’s French Quarter. This neighbourhood has really embraced the Fringe in recent years. It’s not in the main festival area but it’s a short bus ride away. There’s plenty of parking nearby and Café Bicyclette runs a very civilized beer/wine tent over at Cité Francophone. Spend the day checking out the shows in the French Quarter! It’s fantastic!
The 35th Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival is August 11 – 21. Tickets go on sale August 3 at noon and will be available at tickets.fringetheatre.ca.