Week 5: The Unnatural and Accidental Woman & Vigil

11 thoughts on “Week 5: The Unnatural and Accidental Woman & Vigil

  1. These two performances strike me with their boldness, and yet I also wonder how effective they truly are…
    The Unnatural and Accidental Women (TUAW) is quite theatrical how producible is it? It was made into a movie in 2006, but from the trailer, the movie seems to not have the same driving feminine voice that the play has; the film seems translated into the “mainstream Hollywood” language, while highlighting the true events that inspired the story. I also wonder about the heavy amount of sexualization in TUAW…does the tragedy of the violence come across, or is it sensationalized and potentially a distraction from the story?

    Conversely, Vigil takes place outdoors, with barely any barrier between performer and audience. Watching Belmore work, I seem to observe any sexualization replaced by a somber anger. She involves the audience and breathes their same air, which brings an immediacy and tangibility to her work. She even enlists an audience member to help light votives? On the other hand, her performance, as it is not cached in a theatre setting, has the possibility of being ignored or mocked. It seems someone mocks Belmore’s yelling out of the names. What are the virtues of caching a performance in an event, taking up space in the real world, or caching it in the guise of a more mainstream theatre setting?

    The events of these missing women, where it seems this barber took advantage of their loneliness and potential addiction to alcohol, seems to be in itself a cry for help and a rallying call. As Clements says there is “nothing more comfortable than being with a group of people who know they’re alone” (99). Is this a call to community? A call to gather, to bear witness, to hold space? How do we create community? Is this an effective method?
    The line “White is a blindness. It has nothing to do with the colour of your skin” (82) seems to call out to puncture white ignorance. While some might think “I can’t do anything about the color of my skin” or “those aren’t my problems, so I won’t investigate”, recasting “white” as “blindness” encourages one to open their eyes and look through the cracks around them. But, as is the case with most violent injustices, how do people open their eyes when so many others are covering up the information? The national platforms for news and media don’t cover all their bases and they don’t cover all the information for race-based crimes. So how do people get woke to be proactive in their search for justice?


  2. The Unnatural and Accidental Woman and Vigil both attempt to communicate with people and events of the past. This communication isn’t intellectual but spiritual and emotional. The intensity of Rebecca Belmore’s need to communicate with the women lost and forgotten was shocking. I found myself holding my breath as she tore the leaves off the flowers with her teeth and struggled to rip free her dress. It pushed me away and pulled me in at the same time. It felt like I was watching something incredibly violent while all she was doing was lighting candles, nailing fabric and destroying flowers. Anger always (or often) seems to be present in these rememberings.

    The part of the play I remember most vividly is the description of the little deer taken from it’s family and being shot after eating the neighbor’s lettuce. The comparison of Native women dying on the streets of Vancouver to a Bambi like figure is horrifying.

    Also: “White is a blindness–it has nothing to do with the colour of your skin.”


  3. I have to start by admitting that of the assigned pieces so far “The Unnatural and Accidental Women” was by far the most difficult for me to read, both because of the disturbing subject matter and the form. Only very rarely did I feel I could follow what was going on or picture how the piece would have been staged.
    Because of the unit title “in/action” I tried to look at the piece with Aristotle’s definition of dramatic action in mind. If Aristotle posits that the progress of dramatic action should feel inevitable and logical, the words “unnatural” and “accidental” might suggest that the kind of dramatic action Aristotle describes may be inadequate to portray serial killings—which are relentless, obscene, and lack rational motivation. I notice frequent repetitions in the play (“I used to be a trapper when I was young” and “down the hatch baby” for example) , which could be seen as undermining linear progression. It may be that by identifying any action or actor/protagonist within a play, one implicitly labels someone or something else as a thing to be acted upon; for a hunter, there must be something hunted. If I had an opportunity to see this play, I’d be curious to see how the implications of that idea would play out. I guess there’s a Canadian film version?
    –Jack Dwyer


  4. I find this play to be very bittersweet. Clements took these nonfictional women and created a new, empowering world for them where they were able to take revenge on their perpetrator. The story is so inspiring for this reason, but I couldn’t help being sad at the same time, knowing that the true stories of these women were tragic and unjust. That being said, the story that Clements created for them was beautiful and I really enjoyed aspects of her writing. There’s a conversation between Rose and Aunt Shadie about being squished while hugging that I absolutely loved. I would be very curious how family members/ friends of these women (or of Gilbert) feel about this play.


  5. After completing this week’s readings, I couldn’t wrap my mind around the fact that “The Unnatural and Accidental Women” is based on a real serial murder case. How is it possible that a series of murders with similar victims and similar circumstances be discarded as “unnatural and accidental” deaths? The level of negligence and incompetency shown here is shocking and very disturbing. I was also curious about Marie Clements impulse to write this play. Obviously it’s a dramatic and distressing event that should be told – however, I am intrigued with the manner she wrote it in, following the women and their stories, both as independent characters and as a sisterhood of ghosts/memories. I appreciated the moments of humor and life she infused into the text, bringing humanity to the women, so that they weren’t represented merely as victims. I would appreciate reading an interview with Marie Clements (if one exists), describing why and how she composed this piece.


  6. I’m struck by the exploration of objectification in the Unnatural and Accidental Women. While the homicidal barber literally objectifies women by reducing them from a life vessel to a mere corpse, author Marie Clements metaphorically objectifies men as household items or furniture personifying aggressive male, sexual behavior. The difference in medium (literal or metaphor) reflects two distinct worlds in the play. One is a purgatory or hell of some sort, in which a dead Valerie is tormented by a dresser, and the other is world veritable to our own, in which the barber’s rampage enfolds. In both instances a male presence (an assumption I’m making because the dresser’s gender is never explicitly stated) is inflicting harm upon a feminine character. However, the fact that Valerie’s children (both male) exist inside the dresser further complicates this issue. What relationship is Clements establishing through gender, objectification, and personification?


  7. I’m interested in the way Clements and Belmore endow clothing and color with power. Belmore uses the red dress as a symbol for the destruction of the aboriginal women’s lives. The vibrant colored cloth being ripped from the rusty nails is a painful image reminiscent of blood and broken beauty. Clements uses clothing in many ways, also paying particular attention to the color red. Rebecca’s story places great emphasis on buying unworn clothes as a sign of normalcy. She seeks acceptance through clothing and buys blue suede running shoes. Upon discovering her mother’s departure, she retires her new vestments and resigns herself to being abnormal as though her clothes and mother shared a now absent feminine energy.
    Clothing has such a unique relationship to femininity and gender; it marks women as sexual, conservative, wealthy, poor, meek, brazen, etc. It’s almost as if femininity cannot exist without its frills. This makes me wonder at the representation of femininity in theater and film. Female characters and actors become accessories to their costumes onstage and off (red carpet for example). Communicating a type of woman onstage is easily done by altering the hem of her skirt and the color of her blouse… but what to do with when she wears neither. Is she automatically a harlot? A savage? A mad woman?


  8. While reading this play, I could not help but think about the Western European influence that is so prevalent throughout. I am interested in the role of the assorted women as chorus, or being chorus-like. Since this play is clearly influenced by both indigenous and Western European theater, characters appear as external or non-present beings have rather choric or moments of purely expositional roles. Often times injecting humor, setting the scene or atmosphere, or adding exposition and perspective on more dramatic moments. Of course, the contemporary language updates and makes the language humorous (I am thinking particularly about the top of act 2 when the women see themselves in the mirror and take interested in Ron’s penis). But the women offer a perspective that eases the audience into the dramatic and trigger warning-worthy material. While in ancient plays such as Electra, the chorus of Asian women serve as lawyer: offering appeals and arguments to both sides of the story thereby clouding the goals of the protagonist. Creating the women in this play as removed from the presence of the protaginist(s) yet present to the audience riffs on this ancient form as they offer their appeals and perspective more for the education and humorous gratification of the spectators.


  9. This play has me thinking about how women are heard in the theatre. Why are these stories so often violent? Is it important to hear these stories but there is a terrifying trend of women being traumatized on film and tv; that fills some kind of societal fascination. This disturbs me.

    I’m thinking about Eve Enslers “Nessecary Targets”.

    I don’t want victims stories to become theatrical fodder.


  10. The reconstruction of lost lives, anguish and desire I think fuels the play in terms of communication and connection. As humans, we have a longing to make connections with our surroundings whether it’s physical or emotional. Within that space you can find vulnerability, because the urge for love, acceptance and desire burns within us and these characters. It certainly does for Gilbert Paul Jordan!


  11. Clements’ play nails your heart to a splintery post and then tears it away. This sense of physical and emotional violence as depicted in Belmore’s “Vigil” captures the horrifying story of the missing and murdered women in Canada. Though the play unfolds through abstraction images and poetic language, the characters still have very relatable dreams and aspirations. These ernest dreams and aspirations, however, are dashed by the male presence, which objectifies the woman and complicates her own self-image. Violet pondering, “The right waiting is our own making,” illustrated, for me, a woman’s inability to pursue her life without waiting for the man to dictate her path. I find myself repulsed by the male need to dominate and control women, and, as evidenced by descriptions of Gilbert’s character, the man attempts to control women in order to gain power and self-worth.

    The only way to change this cycle is to shine a light on injustice and to scream out the names of the lost women in a manner that embodies the violent means by which their lives were taken.

    This work memorializes these lost lives, but what audience does it reach? Does the abstract nature of Clements’ play make this story accessible for the widest audience possible? How producible is it? And Belmore’s performance fortunately lives on through video, but I am curious about the audience she reached during her street performance. What reverberations did her performance art make?


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