The Annotated Autobiography of Leone McGregor by Savanna Harvey
August 12 – 21 at Venue #23: The Varscona Hotel
More information: facebook.com/pretentioustheatre
An interview with Savanna Harvey.
Describe your show in five words.
Women in medicine! Story-telling! Freud!
Okay, now that we’re intrigued… what’s the longer description?
Leone McGregor was in the first graduating class of the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Medicine – she was also the only woman in her medical classes and the first woman to graduate with a medical degree from that school. Did I mention she graduated top of her class, too? This all happened in our own city, here in Edmonton, in 1925. She’s pretty obscure, historically. But if you do a little digging, you find out she became a psychoanalyst in Europe and a high society socialite in Sweden. The Annotated Autobiography of Leone McGregor shares Leone’s story from the turn-of-the-century through to the 70’s, when she became an advocate for women in medicine.
How did you find out about Leone McGregor’s story? What about her story captured your interest?
There has been a writing contest at the University of Alberta for two years now focusing on Leone’s story. Students are invited to write anything – a screenplay, a short story, a play script – any kind of narrative, in an effort to popularise her as a historical, Albertan icon. I have to admit, I won neither year when I submitted much earlier drafts of this play, but that’s possibly because I was less interested in Leone’s story and more interested in the idea of story-telling itself. The idea of story-telling as a concept took over the play I was writing.
The Annotated Autobiography of Leone McGregor is not just about Leone McGregor’s story, but also about how we tell stories. Can you talk a bit about the questions on that topic that you asked as you were writing the show?
The show comes at the notion of story-telling from two main angles. The first, is the idea of voice: who gets to tell the story. When I come to Question #5, I talk more specifically of narrative voice (who tells the story) and narrative control (what ideologies the narrative is enforcing). The other angle is through the way this show in particular tells a story. We tell Leone’s story through text, song, verse, dance – practically every medium of story-telling available. How we tell the story affects the story being told.
From reading your show description, it seems like there was a bit of “mansplaining” going on in Leone McGregor’s original memoir. What, if anything, did you want to say about this in the show? Do you see The Annotated Autobiography of Leone McGregor as undoing some of those historical actions, or does the focus of the show lie elsewhere?
Appropriation is a difficult topic, and one that is being discussed frequently in contemporary culture. I was intrigued by the idea of appropriation in the narrative of Leone’s story from numerous dimensions. In the first place, I discovered Leone’s story because someone else had researched her unpublished autobiography, annotated it, and self-published it. This was Jack Ondrack. His annotations add a lot of historical context, but he also makes speculations and has a certain agenda and perspective in the telling of Leone’s story. His annotations by sheer word count probably consist of a third of the book’s length. There is inherently something complicated about a female narrative being discovered, validated, and supplemented by a male voice. As a woman playwright, there’s the argument that I’m reclaiming the female narrative, but I’m appropriating Leone’s story, too, by writing a play about her and very purposefully crafting a narrative with my own agenda and perspective. As soon as we tell someone else’s story, the story becomes complicated. Even when we tell our own stories, the story is complicated. Stories are complicated.
Anything else you want audiences to know about the show?
Part of what we’re interested in within this show is how stories are told. For this story specifically, there is a power-struggle going on between written history/text and lived experience. One of the ways we explore this theme is by projecting the script of the play onstage and interacting with the text. It’s a different way of activating a play script, and we’re really excited to share the results!
The 35th Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival is August 11 – 21. Get your tickets at tickets.fringetheatre.ca.