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Renegades: History Is Not As It Seems

Updated: Apr 12, 2022

"Joan of Arc Hunts Prostitutes in the Army", miniature from Vigiles du roi Charles VII à neuf psaumes et neuf leçons, 1493

I started working on Renegades a few years ago, and then decided to put it away until the end of 2019, thinking that when my book got published I would have plenty of time to focus on writing a new show. And then... Hello Pandemic!

But now that there's once again time to write (between variants and uncertainties), I'm back to work. Yesterday I finished a rough draft. Today it's promotions, setting up a venue for the first performance in March. Next week - voice coaching and more research.

The thing that moves me most about this project is a sense of vertigo. How easily, it turns out, famous and remarkable women are wiped out of cultural memory because they don't fit the narrative. We've lost huge parts of our heritage - adventurers, explorers, leaders, creatives, innovators, rebels and so much more.

It has taught me to take no cultural memory for granted. Joan of Arc, for instance, was all but forgotten between the time of her death in the 1430's and the French Revolution. She was only made a saint in 1920. Our vision of her as a long-standing world-famous hero is an illusion.

Another illusion is the typical two-dimensional image of women long ago. Historians of the time painted for us a picture of perfect submissive womanhood or evil unruly vice. "Good" women were praised. Renegades - women who shattered the norm completely - were vilified or never recorded. But many real women would have been something in between: the wife who ran all the affairs for a business her husband formally owned; the housewife who dominated her house; the nun who locked herself away to write books in peace.

People find power, status, autonomy, even in the most challenging circumstances. Loud, proud, clever, interesting women were not absent in history - it is only the records which are silent.

And when it comes to those renegades who refused to play by the rules - we still want to fit them into a 2D plane. Today, we don't want them to be villains any more. We'd like them to be badasses, heroes, role models. But they were only human. Flawed, complicated, at times paradoxical, often problematic.

But this makes them so much more real. And that's both the beauty and the value of them to us today. They are multifaceted, imperfect. Like us. And I think we ought to finally make room for them and their stories, just as they were, with all their twists and turns.

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