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Fabric: Abi Zakarian Interview

5 July 2016 | Tom Faber

With the newspapers focusing ever more on sexual abuse stories from around the world, it is the responsibility of our art to discuss and reflect these issues. One particularly daring example is Abi Zakarian’s new one-woman show ‘Fabric’. This is the story of Leah, the aftermath of rape, and what it takes to move on. We talked to Abi about inspiration, victim-blaming and consent.

London Calling: Where did the idea for Fabric begin?
Abi Zakarian: It came about through Tom O’Brien, the director, and Nancy Sullivan, who’s playing the character Leah. They had worked together before and wanted to do more, a one-woman show. Eventually that brought me into the equation. We got together in a room for a week and workshopped lots of ideas. By the end of the week I came up with a loose direction of what Fabric would become. It started with talk about being a woman, the sense of inequality and where that comes from.
 
LC: So it was quite a collaborative creation process?
AZ: It was, and it’s a slightly unusual way of working, to be brought into a project with a director and an actor attached. But it was great to be able to work with Nancy. I could create the character of Leah from talking to her, questioning her, and getting a sense of her physicality, building Leah from that. Then I went away to write it. I spent a couple of months trying to work out what I wanted to say, getting my facts right, and then sitting down and writing. It was a roundabout way of doing the play but it was really enjoyable.
LC: Did you find the research quite harrowing?
AZ: You can’t move for the news these days and there are a lot of very high profile rape cases. It’s a really huge thing that we’re not confronting. You’ve got to look at it head-on; you’ve got to deal with it.
 
LC: What do you think peoples’ misconceptions are about rape and its aftermath?
AZ: Mostly how they judge the survivors. You can’t get away from social media. In many cases people will jump online and say, “well she’s fifteen but she didn’t look fifteen.” As if that’s somehow a mitigating circumstance. It’s almost a cliché: look how she was dressed, she was drunk, what was she doing going out and leaving her friends? I come from the viewpoint of – just no. There is no excuse.
LC: The cycle of victim-blaming.
AZ: Yes, we’ve got our phrasing – body shaming, slut shaming, victim shaming. We’re good at creating new phrases for things but we’re not so good at confronting the problem.
 
LC: It still seems like the question of consent is something that people find tricky to understand.
AZ: It’s education. We should teach everyone that no means no. What you see on TV, porn, in the media: a pliant woman who’s saying no but means yes, it isn’t real. We should be educating with the hard facts. We don’t really hear from the survivor of how they felt and what is done to them because their names are kept anonymous, then they become ‘rape victim’ or ‘unconscious woman’ or Jane Doe. It’s very easy to dehumanize someone.
 
LC: Was it difficult for you emotionally to write this?
AZ: Yes. I would set aside a day to write particular scenes. It was really difficult, and when I’d done it I had to close the laptop and just walk away, go for a walk. Normally when I write I just do it, it’s my job. But this was hard, very intense.
 
LC: What can theatre do to tell this story and make this point that no other medium can?
AZ: Many shows and movies deal with sexual violence. We can accept that on screen, but when we put it on stage, it feels different. It’s all about the words. We want to give Leah the option to choose her words to say what’s happened. I think if an audience can connect with her in that moment, perhaps they’ll move beyond just saying, ‘oh that’s awful’. They’re forced to confront it. Nancy’s done such an amazing job in connecting with the audience. I want people to think that she could be their daughter, sister, wife, or friend.
 
Fabric is coming to New Wimbledon Studio from 11th – 14th July. Book tickets online.
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