“We all have an inner bear, and if we can tap into her, she’ll help us to survive.”
Grief. Sisterhood. A bear. The team behind sorry did I wake you (Beth Collins, Nina Georgieff and Marilena Sitaropoulou) discuss the body and the mind, light within loss, and the universality of grief with Hayley Gow.
After performances at Tristan Bates Theatre and The Actors Centre in London, and following the pandemic’s postponement of their appearance at the Brighton Fringe Festival, sorry did I wake you is entering its next iteration. Created initially by Collins and Georgieff and now joined by theatre practitioner Sitaropoulou as director and movement director, sorry did I wake you explores the impact of grief upon the body through the story of Annie and her sister Bea, moving between the past and the present through flashbacks and body memories. The piece draws on lived and researched experience, but aims to be universal, allowing audiences to see their own grief understood onstage.
Both Collins and Georgieff graduated from the Oxford School of Drama in 2017 – having performed there in the role of twins, and both being from families of sisters, focusing on sisterly relationships felt natural. “It’s just what’s normal for us,” says Collins, “but we’re also really aware that it’s not that common to find onstage, or if you do find sisters, they tend to be filling one stereotype or another”. sorry did I wake you is not, however, a sister-specific story – “we’re looking at the process of dealing with grief and loss, which have always been universal terms”, explains Sitaropoulou, whose training in theatre, dance and movement at The American College of Greece and the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama has influenced her practice as sorry did I wake you’s movement director, applying research on how the body experiences time into the topic of loss.
Indeed, the body’s experience in processing loss is central to sorry did I wake you. Collins muses that “maybe if we knew how to speak better with our bodies, we’d be less hung up on knowing what to say”. This has been key in the process behind their work. Georgieff draws inspiration from her work with Complicite, and with dance movement psychotherapy, “which is based along the lines that the mind and the body are inseparable, and are in constant interaction with each other”. This principle is maintained in Sitaropoulou’s movement direction, which prioritises truth in expression through the body; “when the line and the text stops, the body almost always keeps expressing itself. That’s why movement and sound played a vital role in the storytelling.” Rooted in collaboration, improvisation and devising work, movement combines with text to explore the truth within loss as a bodily and mental experience.
The creators of sorry did I wake you are keenly aware of the heaviness that can come with performing the process of grief, and feel a need for darkness to be interspersed with light. “If you present an audience with a story that is just sad and just dark, they will come with you to a certain degree” explains Collins. “We don’t want to tell them a story – we want them to be there with us. If you fill them up with lightness, laughter and joy, they’ll come with you much more willingly when you want to talk about the dark stuff.” Through this dual approach, sorry did I wake you reveals the normalcy and complexity of loss; “while Annie might feel like crying and raging sometimes, other times she may laugh and dance, and that’s not a bad thing – you go through all emotions when you’re experiencing something like this. There’s a multifacetedness of this experience as a part of life – it’s bringing in those moments of lightness, as well, that’s very important”, explains Georgieff. “We’re trying to let our audiences know that it’s normal”.
And what of the elephant – or rather, the bear – in the room? Sarah Kolb plays an ever-present bear whose place in sorry did I wake you is one that may signify personal strength; “the bear means so many things, which is specific to every individual – what does that bear look like for you?” asks Georgieff. “It’s the part of you that helps you through the tough times. We all have an inner bear, and if we can tap into her, she’ll help us to survive.” It is this strength that the team hopes the audience can find in the show: “it’s bittersweet”, Sitaropoulou concludes. “It’s finding the strength to move forward by acknowledging what you leave in the past, and coming to terms with that”.
Leaving the past behind is a reality we must all face in the coronavirus pandemic, which is felt heavily in the world of theatre. With experiences of grief feeling particularly amplified, the sorry did I wake you team explains that dealing with loss through theatre is more important than ever. “We’re still very much looking to do a live performance in a physical performance space in the future”, Collins clarifies, “but the post-pandemic world is going to be a very different place. We’ve decided that there will be another version that we will be offering as a radio play.” Transferring a movement-dominated play into an audio format comes with challenges, but Sitaropoulou is confident it is possible; “it’s a big challenge that we’re putting a lot of work into – hopefully we’ll be able to release it sometime during the summer”.
With loss affecting so many of us in so many ways at present, sorry did I wake you is not only a timely reflection of the experience of coping with grief, its team also encourages us to find our own inner bears and use them to have the strength to survive.