Editor’s note: Laura Niehaus is an Education and Outreach advocate at Hope & Healing Survivor Resource Center. Niehaus appears in Margaret Atwood’s “Alias Grace” through Feb. 2 at Weathervane Playhouse.
“I used to think that if I could hug myself tight enough I could make myself smaller, because there was never enough room for me, at home or anywhere, but if I was smaller then I would fit in.” – Margaret Atwood, “Alias Grace.”
I have always felt like I take up too much space. I am too tall, too large, too loud, too enthusiastic, and just altogether too much. “Shrink yourself,” I’d think, “this is borrowed territory.” I find myself asking why? Why do I feel like I don’t “fit” in the world? When I was cast as Mary in Margaret Atwood’s “Alias Grace” at The Weathervane Playhouse, I didn’t realize how much this question would haunt me.
When I auditioned, the only role I was sure that I would not be cast as was Mary — I just didn’t “fit.” It took me months of struggling with “imposter syndrome” to understand why the directors chose me to portray her. In “Alias Grace,” adapted for the stage by Jennifer Blackmer, Mary is Grace’s dearest friend. Mischievous and lively, Mary is a young woman attempting to squeeze what joy she can out of her life as a servant. She is brash and provocative and incredibly perceptive, but also enduringly hopeful. She has ambitions above her station. And for daring to challenge society’s expectations of her, she is severely punished. She didn’t “fit” in her world either.
A psychological thriller, “Alias Grace” revolves around a set of real murders that took place in Canada in the 1840s, but Atwood and Blackmer also examine the inequalities and brutalities of the Victorian world. The world was shaped by men; and so, women were expected to navigate through a maze of someone else’s design. Through Grace, Mary, Nancy and Mrs. Lavell, we are able to witness how societal forces manipulate women’s abilities to write their own stories. The sexuality of women is repressed and punished, but there is a willingness to allow, and even expect, sexual violence against women. Women are treated as objects, as lesser beings, valuable only to the extent that they can serve men. If women are objects, then they are disposable.
Tragically, even though nearly 200 years have passed, we are still struggling with the same issues. Which is what makes this story so relevant. In this spirit, Weathervane Playhouse has decided to partner with my employer, Hope & Healing Survivor Resource Center, to help spread awareness and education. As an advocate, I work with survivors of sexual and intimate partner violence—issues that still disproportionally affect women. Accepting violence against women as an inevitable part of our culture only allows it to continue. We must challenge the status quo if we ever expect change — push back against the pressure to “fit” in the roles society casts us in. We need to be unafraid to take up space and demand that society makes room for us and our voices.
Alias Grace is now on stage at Weathervane Playhouse, 1301 Weathervane Lane, until Feb. 2. Call (330) 836-2626 or go to www.weathervaneplayhouse.com to get your tickets.
If you or someone you needs help or information, call the 24/7 hotlines — Rape Crisis Center: (330) 434-7273; Battered Women’s Shelter: (330) 374-1111. Or visit Hopeandhealingresources.org) .