Hannah Silva on how she used Fifty Shades of Grey to create powerful feminist satire, Schlock!

Below is a piece written by Hannah Silva on her solo performance Schlock!, a powerful feminist satire for the cut and paste generation inspired by two books; Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James and In Memoriam to Identity by Kathy Acker. Schlock! will be performed at the Albany on Tuesday 10 and Wednesday 11 November at 7.30pm. Click here for details and booking information.

Schlock imagery by Field and McGlynn June 14_003

What I did to Fifty Shades of Grey.  

“Rendered through spoken word, vocal loops, articulation techniques, off-kilter screened subtitles, and sections performed entirely in British Sign Language, Schlock! is a captivating and disconcerting experience.” narc magazine.

Schlock! is a solo performance mostly made by splicing together two books, Fifty Shades of Grey and a novel by Kathy Acker. The result is something entirely different, so you don’t need to have read or know anything about either book/author to experience the work, it was just part of my writing process. But for those who are interested in the process behind the performance, here’s what I did, and a bit about why:

I tried to read Fifty Shades of Grey. Failed, but managed to copy down some lines such as:

“How did you feel when I was hitting you and after?”

“I didn’t like it. I’d rather you didn’t do it again.”

“You weren’t meant to like it.”

I also did a word search on my Kindle edition for all of the instances of the word ‘pain’ (75). I wrote them down and that has become one section of the performance.

When trying to read the novel I was shocked by how clearly the protagonist says ‘no’ and surprised by how unattractive the character of Grey is, but mostly it made me feel sad. As much as the language, it was the intensity of that emotional response that I worked with to make the performance.

I’ve always had an intense emotional/visceral response to reading novels by Kathy Acker. Totally different to Fifty Shades – Acker’s writing overwhelms me with its craft and boldness, but it’s also very sad, she gets to the heart of the kind of emptiness and abuse that’s on the surface of Fifty Shades and uses writing to drill down into absence and numbness and exposes the isolation and disconnection of the figures that roam through her words… It seemed to me that I could use the text of Fifty Shades to write about Kathy.

To write about Kathy I needed to write about the body and femaleness and sex and abuse and pain and death and control and orgasm, but mostly to write about Kathy I needed to write about writing, I couldn’t separate Kathy from writing from her body from sex from a woman from a child from an orgasm from death….

One of the main things I did to Fifty Shades was to replace the words ‘submissive’ with ‘mother’ and ‘dominant’ with ‘child’:

‘Am I submissive? Maybe I come across that way. Maybe I misled him in the interview’


‘Am I a mother? Maybe I come across that way. Maybe I misled him’.

I also took the definition of ‘submissive’ that’s used in Fifty Shades:

tractable, compliant, pliant, amenable, passive, resigned, patient, docile, tame, subdued.

And found words in it: tract, act, able, come, pliant, plant, ant, liant, map, amen, able, pass, sieve, sign, gen, sing, need, tent, net, pat, dol, cile, sub, due, bed.

I split these words into smaller words or phonemes, and used them as a map for a ‘new’ piece of text e.g:

Kathy is a sieve I use sometimes when I need a sign. Every one of Kathy’s books is signed with need with gen with sing at pat at patterns. Kathy used a net to make stories and Kathy had natty tits hidden in a tent top until needed…

I use British Sign Language in the performance to explore ways of writing – sign language is writing embodied. I also wanted to open up my work to d/Deaf audiences, as it’s always been so sound focused in the past. And I love the language, I love the way gestures are made meaningful… I found that I had to totally change the way I think about writing and poetry in order to ‘write’ the sign language sections. It was very difficult, I worked with a few different people all of whom were not able to keep working with me for various reasons – I had a breakdown in middle of night, but recovered when I saw a quote by Sarah Kane that I have stuck on my wall: ‘I genuinely believe you can do anything on stage. For me the language of theatre is image’. Then I met Daryl Jackson, a Deaf actor and interpreter who was brilliant and enthusiastic about what I was trying to do, and it was through working with him I got to experience what it’s like to become the writing….

Read more about Hannah Silva’s use of British Sign Language here… http://hannahsilva.co.uk/signs-of-poetry/

Finally I structured the performance using events from Kathy Acker’s life (which you can read about here: http://penguinrandomhouse.ca/hazlitt/feature/last-days-kathy-acker – particularly her actions following being diagnosed with breast cancer.

Ultimately I wrote through my source materials to explore sex, disease, control and death, taking Kathy’s name as subject.

I didn’t do it in this way all the way through (some sections are ‘original’), but here’s an example of how the two texts got spliced together to make something different. I’ve put words from Acker in italics, words from Fifty Shades in bold, underlined words are ‘mine’. Words I replaced are in square brackets. I’ve used a ‘|’ to indicate when the text is taken from a different location in the same source text:

The child wants above all to be destroyed.

Before being born, he asks his mother ‘how much pain are you willing to experience? The pregnant woman already knows what it is to be flogged, spanked, whipped and corporally punished. |‘I’ll show you how bad it can be’ her unborn son saysSanta Klaus doesn’t exist’ she replies. ‘Ouch! Are you stamping your little foot?’

Whose identity [sexuality] am I and whose identity [sexuality] are you?

The entrance to her womb [to the hospital] says EMERGENCY.

She must be spread open. | Her heart must show.

Watch the Schlock! trailer here… http://hannahsilva.co.uk/performance/schlock/

Read an interview with Hannah Silva on Schlock! here… https://livetheatrenewcastle.wordpress.com/62-2/interview-with-theatre-maker-and-writer-hannah-silva/

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