We’re in the last weeks of rehearsal for my play Normal, about a group of teenage girls who all come down with a mysterious illness.
The title of the play is a provocation. It naturally begs the question, what is normal anyway?
Nobody really knows. But somehow we definitely know when we’re not. Even when we self-define as freaks and weirdos, we’re still defining ourselves against this monolithic force of normality.
As an antidote to the dictionary definition of normal as ‘conforming to a standard, usual, typical, or expected’, or of a person, ‘free from physical or mental disorders’, our brilliant cast here share their own experiences of normality/difference and what has come up for them while rehearsing this play.
Within the lines
“The concept of ‘normal’ has been ever-changing in my short lifetime,” says Chika Ikogwe.
Growing up as a first generation Nigerian in Australia meant that I never exactly fit into the mould of my environment. In high school, I was surrounded by tall, blonde, skinny, netball playing white girls who were allowed to go to parties regularly.
“That was the only representation of ‘the teenage girl’ I was exposed to, so I often thought that’s what I had to be to not be the odd one out.
At the time though, my dark skin, thick thighs and dark hair made my differences quite apparent. I eventually grew into my differences and became (and am still becoming more comfortable) with them, but that definitely took time.
Katie’s play reminds me a lot of being at an age where all you want to attain is normalcy. You try your best to stay within the lines to avoid criticism or judgment, however sometimes the more you try to restrain yourself, the more you stick out and eventually have to come to terms with what is.”
A dangerous myth
The idea of being normal or normality is a dangerous myth, writes Cecilia Morrow. “It is an untainted and unaffected existence, bereft of the challenges and difficulties of life-altering events.
The biggest challenges in my life, when I have thought I was so abnormal or unlucky, or broken, the things that have brought me most grief and angst, when I deviated off the ‘straight’, ‘care-free’, ‘problem-free’ path, are the things that have shaped my life and person.
It is how we meet this ‘abnormality’ or disturbance of the peace that moulds who we are. Normal does not acknowledge the truth of being a wonderfully fallible human being.
There is a traditional Japanese art form called Kintsugi, which uses precious metals, often gold to repair cracked or broken ceramics. The end result recreates the vessel while highlighting the cracks and breaks, and these irregularities are enhanced and celebrated, adding more value to the piece. It is the ‘art of precious scars’.
Don’t be the Ikea bowl. Be Kintsugi.”
“As a teenager I was highly aware of gender expectations,” writes Alexandra Morgan. “I went to an all-girls’ Christian school and distinctly remember the fear of body hair, curves and imperfection increasing as we all got older. MySpace was a thing, selfies were being taken on our digital cameras. We were highly critical of ourselves and each other.
There was an expectation to uphold a ‘normality’ that fit well within a conservative Christian ideal. Normal was synonymous with heterosexual, binary, femme, devout and white. Combined with mass media where normal for young women was to be thin, sexualised and objectified, I felt pressure to think of myself mainly in relation to cis men.
Now as an adult I think normal is a toxic word, especially when used to divide people. The more I study others the more I realise people have endless idiosyncrasies, and so what is normal is completely subjective. I have let go of the idea that normality is something to strive for or celebrate. It isn’t real.”
Among the many millions of things I am, normal is not one of them,” writes Finley Penrose. “I think that’s my best quality. There’s no such thing as ‘normal’ when you’re an Autistic transgender actor, but that’s a gift.
I’m not going to pretend that it’s easy. I face resistance from so many angles, whether it be active malice or simple good-natured ignorance. I don’t have the luxury of blending in, regardless of whether or not I’d like to.
When the world is a dangerous place to be (and it is, for anyone who is different) sometimes it would be really nice to be safe and ordinary, no matter how much it might hurt your soul.
In that way I’ve found myself identifying with Poppy and her central struggle – I was her once, fifteen and frightened of my body and myself, never sure if what was happening within me was real, beset on all sides with confusion and condemnation.
Poppy’s story is far more than just adolescence, or being extraordinary in an ordinary world, and anyone who has ever felt othered can find a piece of themselves in her.
It’s such a privilege, then, to bring to life a story that allows a young woman to have a rich emotional tapestry; one that nods to hysteria and teenage blues but never lets itself be swallowed up by it.
It’s such a joy to tell Poppy’s story, but the greatest gift in this process is the warmth, support and strength of our cast and crew. I’m immeasurably proud of the work we’ve done together, and I’m so excited to share it.”
Normal plays at the Old 505 Theatre, Newtown, May 29-June 15