By Madeline H.D. Brown
“Salomania,” set in 1918, looks at a society paralyzed by the losses and cultural shifts of World War I. Demonstrating the political drive for scapegoats, “Salomania” examines the libel trial brought by the American dancer Maud Allan against a British Member of Parliament (MP). Maud Allan’s career never recovered post trial and her experience resonates with today’s political hysterias. Oscar Wilde died penniless following his libel trial and Mata Hari was executed only one year before Maud Allan’s legal scandal. Sadly, Maud Allan seems to be only one in a long line of bold spirits turned scapegoat.
At 28, Maud Allan abandoned her musical career and became a dancer. She drew audiences across class and gender lines and inspired a generation of performers who made the “Salome” dance ubiquitous. I relish playing Maud Allan. Headstrong and confident, she laughs, cries, throws drinks in people’s faces and kisses who she wishes. She is a daring character trapped in a quickly shifting society.
Back in September 2010, I screamed loudly as I realized while checking in online for a flight to London that my passport was out of date and I would not be flying as planned. As luck would have it, a week later I was asked to audition for the workshops of “Salomania,” which would otherwise have been impossible. It was in these workshops that I developed my passion for Maud’s tale and Mark Jackson’s approach to telling not only her story but the story of her society as well. I feel sometimes that Maud herself intervened with my travel plans.
I love Maud Allan because I relate to her, deeply. I too felt stifled where I came from and ran to Europe, in my early twenties, to train in my art. I too, somehow, without planning it, fell into a career of dancing in beautiful, revealing costumes—all the while claiming it had nothing at all to do with sex. I too came to the end of that career, but it was not due to being publicly ruined, but because I grew out of that particular expression and shifted back into experimental and “straight” theatre.
Maud and I have a lot in common, but I knew to be able to play her, I would need to keep our worlds clearly delineated. Being physically and mentally prepared for the show became my priority. I built up my stamina for the dancing. I cut out sugar and alcohol to help me rest better and to keep panic and depression at bay. I read Maud’s autobiography and numerous books about her, to better understand her inside and outside personas. As the show has gone into production, I have developed simple, physical rituals to help leave her world on the stage and not take the trauma home with me. I believe all of this forethought, preparation and discipline has paid off. I am playing, in seven shows a week, a tortured woman who was silenced and publicly abused—and I am sleeping fine, feeling inspired, and still appreciate every opportunity to tell her story.
In “Salomania” the words “clitoris” and “orgasm” are unknown to the lawyers and judge trying Maud’s case. Recently, Michigan state representatives Ms. Brown and Ms. Byrum were silenced, for using the word “vagina” while discussing a bill regarding abortions. Apparently, saying “vagina” did not “ensure that the proper level of maturity and civility were maintained on the House floor.” “Salomania” explores these enduring contradictions. Audience members have told me how far we have come; others have said, “How very little has changed.” I could not agree with them more. Women’s representation in theatre is as limited as the society it arises from. There is little justification in the claim that women’s experiences in the theatre are equitable, when in the political, economic and social arenas outside of the theatre’s walls their experiences are inequitable. I feel honored to play the role of Maud Allan. I consider her to have been a vibrant and bold woman who was dealt a great disservice of justice. Her art was lost to the ages due to the infamy of this injustice. I believe that the failures’ stories in history teach us more than the winners, and due to the disparity of our society, these stories go frequently missing. Credit to the Aurora Theatre Company, Mark Jackson and the many audience members who have engaged with this weighty piece that now, Maud Allan’s story is not a lost one any longer.
“Salomania,” written and directed by Mark Jackson, runs at the Aurora Theatre Company through July 29th.
Madeline H.D. Brown is a performer and creator. You may find her latest inspirations and creations at madelinehdbrown.tumblr.com.
The views represented in this Chatterbox Art & Opinion post are those of the individual author, and do not necessarily represent the views of Theatre Bay Area or its staff.