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Rewriting our stories through interogating our ancient pasts - Rose Goodbody on Cassandra R&Ds

Two years ago Found In Translation’s second production ‘Cassandra’ (a subversive adaptation of Aeschylus’ ‘Agamemnon’) debuted at the Blue Elephant Theatre. Recently we held two R&D weekends to rework the play thanks to a grant from the Hellenic Society, which promotes engagement with Greek culture across the ages. Rose Goodbody, writer of Cassandra, remembers her experience of revisiting her script to give it new life.

It’s long been a trope that those who go into the arts are all tortured souls, using their pain to create beautiful works of art. I often think everyone is a tortured soul, in their own way, so while it might be true of artists, it is also just a truth of humanity.

I had studied Aeschylus’ Agamemnon in school and I often credit Cassandra’s small role as the only reason I could pay attention in class. Years later, a fierce desire to explore more of her character, and my own experiences, drove me to start adapting the play around Cassandra. I felt connected to her story.

During my early writing process I was directly lifting lines for Cassandra from my own diaries, notes, and poems. The personal nature of the words made it hard to share drafts with other creatives for feedback, both the positive and the negative. So while the show’s first performance at the Blue Elephant Theatre was one of my proudest and most healing moments, the play wasn’t the best it could be. And after that, I knew it.

So where do you turn when your script has gone stagnant? I couldn’t work on it any further without fresh insight, without opening it up to others and hearing some genuine feedback. For me it meant taking a brave plunge, but it also meant getting together a room full of trusted creatives for their insight and wisdom. With a generous grant from the Hellenic Society, we were able to run two weekends of R&D workshops with the FIT Theatre family.

It was incredible to hand my script over to this talented group who each had their own understandings of my words. Before we started I thought I had said all I could about the issues facing abused and voiceless women. But then, after day one of our workshops, I stayed up until four A.M. writing a new scene to try out the next morning. There may have been some teething moments when I had to sit on my hands and bite my tongue, but suddenly the gaps in my script felt fillable and we found new life in the story.

We took a few months break (it was Christmas and we all had presents to buy, family to see) but by the next R&D in March I had drafted three fresh scenes and made tweaks to clarify some of the plays most crucial speeches. In the months following our first run of Cassandra, I had really struggled to find the strength to reconnect with my characters, but now I was exploring them with a team that made it much easier for me to feel safe to reexamine my words and clarify parts of the play I couldn’t do justice to initially.

Cassandra is still my favourite play, and I think that’s allowed. But now it has matured, and it gives me the gumption to think about other ancient stories that I could lend that voice to. I’m definitely not done yet.

Rose Goobbody is co-founder and artistic director/executive producer of Found In Translation Theatre.

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