The writer Virginia Woolf wrote that a woman should have money and her own room if she was going to write fiction. The extended essay “A Room of Her Own” was first published in September 1929 and was based on lectures she gave at two women’s colleges at the University of Cambridge.
The classic text explores social injustice and comments on women’s lack of freedom of expression.
Nearly a century later, Rebecca Vaughn of Dyad Productions presents Woolf’s essay to the public as part of a one-man show. She will appear in the Walled Garden at the Bangor Open House Festival on August 15th.
Dubbing “A Room of Your Own” as a pre-Ted Talk performance, Rebecca met Woolf by reading the 1925 Mrs. Dalloway.
This was soon followed by an essay reading by a theater master. She says, “You know, when you first read a writer and you think, ‘How have I never met them before?’ I liked her letter, I liked its freshness.
“I have never seen anything like this with Mrs. Dalloway.
“I had never come across this kind of 1920s feminism before and I was so interested in it. Then I read A Room of My Own and Orlando.
Rebecca wanted to write an adaptation of the essay for almost a decade.
She explains: “I think the most interesting thing about A Room of Your Own is that it’s non-fiction, but it infuses it with magical realism, which is what makes it so addictive. That’s what makes it potentially so interesting as a solo show.”
Rebecca has been touring with the production for the past few weeks.
“The fact that she was originally created from two lectures she gave, which she wove together and added additional elements to the book, is incredible.
“Because of this setup, it works perfectly as a solo show. You break the fourth wall and speak directly to the audience. As a result, there is so much wry humor in there.
“What I really wanted to do was show how relevant this is. I didn’t want it to be a historical reenactment and to be like, “Look how Virginia Woolf gives this speech.”
“She talks so much about ‘in 100 years’ and you think she wrote it in 1928 and 100 years later is 2028. It’s really exciting to highlight to the audience what has changed and what hasn’t changed.”
Rebecca enjoys focusing on strong historical female characters and has a really intermediate take on feminism and theater. For many, this essay offers another perspective on the modernist author, and Rebecca agrees.
“This is the most revealing of her work and she explains some of the reasons why she wrote the way she wrote.
“One of the biggest things I have found is humor.
“I wanted to urge everyone that this is a discussion that we should all have and that no one feels left out or attacked.
“If you get everyone on your side and understand that these are brilliant arguments that are very clear, simple and honest things that no one can doubt, then you will understand how you can keep the audience on yourself.
“I did have a few breaths. There are a couple of moments when you leave the audience to think about something, and the reaction was just great.
“I feel like this is a really important message, show and book that needs to be shared.”
In the original text, Woolf explores the careers of several female authors, including the Brontë sisters, Jane Austen, and Aphra Behn. In another section, she invents a fictional Judith, Shakespeare’s sister, to emphasize that a woman with the talent of a famous playwright would be denied the opportunity to develop.
“She was just as adventurous, just as imaginative, just as eager to see the world as he was. But she was not sent to school,” Woolf wrote in 1928.
Spectators on August 15 should not expect to see all the features of literary figures on stage.
“We decided not to use multi-personality per se and keep it true to the original,” explains Rebecca.
“It’s her, but there are times when she embodies some characters more than others, especially Judith, Shakespeare’s sister. There’s a great section on Shakespeare, so we’re definitely physically a bit more of him, but he always goes back to the original idea of this almost lecture form.
“You don’t have to invent anything with this piece; it’s so beautiful. Sometimes, if you impose too much, you lose the original essence and zest.”
We’re talking about how vocal Woolf was about the reality of a woman’s life in the 20th century.
“She was so outspoken,” says Rebecca. “A Room of Your Own” is a breakthrough. Even when I say the words, every time I say them they seem groundbreaking despite being 94 years old.
“They keep fresh and that was vital for me. I wanted to keep it fresh, it’s relevant and it’s something very enjoyable, but totally thought provoking and leaving people with questions.”
Rebecca is grateful for the “amazing” feedback, including from those who were asked to read Wolfe, played by Oscar winner Nicole Kidman in the 2002 film The Hours.
“You just say, ‘My job is done!’ she laughs. “This is the best feedback I could ask for someone to revisit the original source material – that’s all I could ask for. I wish there were more people who haven’t [read] or people who think it’s one thing, go back and read it.”
Rebecca, who has developed other shows about the life of a young woman, Elizabeth I and Jane Austen, planned for her adaptation of Woolf to take place in less traditional theatrical spaces due to the pandemic.
“It occurred to me that since it was originally a lecture, this part, if I created it, could work in a less traditional space. We were potentially invited to join the open air festival with whatever show we wanted, so the shows we already had wouldn’t work.
“I felt like it was a damn good excuse to see if it worked.”
Thanks to the second lockdown, the festival didn’t take place and Rebecca finally did a five-show mini show last September.
“It was so wonderful to connect with the audience again,” she says.
“Ironically, he ended up in a theatrical space. That’s the beauty of going to the Open House Festival – it’s a less traditional space. It will be a lot of fun; this will be the first time the show will take place outdoors.”
Adapting Woolf’s text proved more difficult than she had imagined, but it did a lot of good.
“One really good thing about loving it is that it becomes very clear what you have to save,” she says.
“That way it becomes easier to choose your fights as such and find ways to compress as much of the source material as possible and get that throughline that I’ve always loved.
“Part of the joy of adaptation is that it will always be between the original writer and the person who is adapting or producing.
“Each Hamlet is unique because the same words are spoken by different troupes, and it is the same with every adaptation.
“It will depend on what the person doing the adaptation really wants to keep. It was difficult because I wanted to save so much more than I could, I wanted to save everything.
“I love literature, and we have already done some work on Virginia Woolf and other classic literature. For me it was like this: if I went to see it, would I feel it was fair? This is an extremely important part of the process.”
Returning to the reviews, she mentions a talk last week that was attended by an Open University professor and a couple of his students.
“They caught me afterwards and they loved it. It was so nice to see this guy and his students who thought we did the right thing. It inspired me a lot.”
“A Room of Your Own” is located in the walled garden at the Open House festival on August 15th. Tickets and more information can be found at openhousefestival.com.