Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2019
Jessica Ross: "That unspoken bond of experiencing a glimpse into private life or world that is created on stage is probably one of the most intimate experiences we can have today."
DROWNING | Pleasance Courtyard (Above)
31st July – 26th August 2019 (not 13th), 14:30 | TICKETS
In 1991, four Austrian nurses were charged with murdering 49 elderly patients in their beds, although estimates now put the death toll nearer to 200.
Hi Jessica & Steven thanks for talking to TNC, how's everything going?
Jessica - Hi! Doing well. Thank you for taking the time to talk to us.
Steven - Hi, Steven Roy here. All is well.
How does it feel to be at Edinburgh Fringe?
Jessica - So amazing! It is such an honour to join so many incredible performers and creators. The Edinburgh Fringe has such a beautiful and rich history and to join in that ancestry is amazing. In addition to bringing our show to Pleasance, the cast and crew of Drowning have launched an initiative to support other women creatives and casts in bringing their own project to life at the Fringe. We call it ‘UnDrowning’. Our aim is to support women and their visions and voices in the sea that is the Fringe. Leading up to the Fringe, we are offering a financial scholarship each week to a deserving project to help offset the costs of bringing a show to Ed Fringe. We also will be offering a variety of activities and supportive services during the Fringe itself. We want our first experience at the Fringe to be a collaborative one and want to give back and connect on a deeper level.
Steven - Feels great. Been looking forward to it. This will be my first time.
Are there any nerves ahead of your World Premiere?
Jessica - Whenever you put a piece of yourself out into the world, a piece of your creativity, there is always apprehension! And all of it is directed into the abyss of the uncontrollable unknown...Will they like it? Will they get it? Is it ready? Am I ready? And in 60 minutes!!!
Steven - Of course, nerves always come in when you care about something.
Can you tell me a little bit about Drowning, what can we expect?
Jessica - Drowning is based on a true story that rocked Vienna in Austria and the rest of the world during the 1980s. Four Austrian nurses were accused of murdering 49 patients in their beds. Terrifying fright?! As the story unfolded it came to light the nurses had been killing for nearly 6 years and the suspected death toll was closer to 200.
As with any true crime story, the expectation is a trap. This story is no different. We, as a society, often feel safer when we believe we have some mode of understanding or reasoning as to why horrendous acts have been committed. It gives us a sense of safety if we can simply label someone a “serial killer” or “psychopath”. Then we write them off and go to bed. This story is deeper than that. As with most stories. Where we as a cast venture to delve is to uncover the humanity in each of these women, where the audience may see a bit of themselves in each of the four nurses.
Steven - Expect the social and moral values that have traditionally surrounded death to be challenged.
When did you first discover this shocking true story?
Jessica - I was researching famous serial killers for another show I was asked to compose music for and came across this story about 4 nurses who worked together for years.
Steven - Jessica brought it to me and was very passionate about telling this story. And I can see why.
What was it about these four nurses, the Lainz Angels of Death, that intrigued you so much as a writer?
Jessica - I love writing for women. The fact that these four women worked together for years was intriguing to me. They managed to form a little family or gang where their relationship and loyalty to each other superseded the laws of morality and man. What was going on for each of them that allowed them to justify their acts in their own minds? What did it take for them to be convinced or pushed over the edge to want to take another’s life, especially in a profession dedicated to ‘doing no harm’? There is so much to explore as a writer and for the actors and audience as well. That’s the beauty of the arts, it allows us to explore the dark crevices of our humanity in safety.
Steven - As a director, I was intrigued by their perspective on death, and why they killed so many people.
"I go through funny moments that even though I wrote all the words I have still have to memorize all my lines! But I would say being attached to the work is imperative."
Did you have any apprehensions about bringing this history to the stage?
Jessica - The play is written with all of the backstories of these women imagined and interpreted because it is so little available about their actual lives. They are real, currently living people, under witness protection with new identities. But we have no idea of those details and their whys. In writing these four women I explore what could possibly make them kill, what made them stick together for so long and never tell on each other, how their psyches may have split to justify these actions. I also delve into deep women’s issues. The apprehension comes from the magnitude of the topics and how the audience may feel if they suddenly find themselves relating to a murder.
Steven - Given the sensitive nature of the historical event, there is always an apprehension in telling this kind of story. It’s so important to maintain respect for the victims and their families. But as storytellers, we want to explore the human condition and dig deeper into why people do what they do, hoping to find some sort of redemption.
During your research did you discover anything that shocked or surprised you about the nurses?
Jessica - Shocking? I think I was shocked by how little the media delved into why the nurses murdered. The press seemed more concerned with the gory details than the reasons that drove these women to commit and justify these acts. Who were they? Where did they come from?
Steven - I was surprised by how “normal” they all seemed in how they lived their lives, and the personal issues they were dealing with.
What have been the biggest challenges bringing a new production to life?
Jessica - 60 minutes! 60 minutes! 60 minutes! Extremely limited props! Being in another country and having to have everything done in the states and then move it ALL to Edinburgh and then get it up in the limited amount of days before opening night! Whoa!
Steven - Time. There never seems to be enough time to explore the nooks and crannies.
How would you describe Drowning in 3 words?
Jessica - Borderless. Relentless. Breathtaking.
Steven - Bold. Persuasive. Challenging
As writer/performer is it hard to not get yourself too attached to your work?
Jessica - You just said it. Writer AND performer!!! I go through funny moments that even though I wrote all the words I have still have to memorize all my lines! But I would say being attached to the work is imperative. That’s what makes the words live. And breathe. The characters must become flesh and blood. The more attached each us are the more of a chance there is for the magic to happen.
Steven - Honestly, I get attached to every project. I obsess over the story all day, in my sleep, when I’m doing something else. It’s instinctive; I can’t help myself but be completely engrossed in it.
What was it about Jessica’s play that interested you so much?
Steven - Death. It’s so feared and avoided in our society. No one really wants to look at it, which is unfortunate, as we will all eventually go through it. For me, death isn’t the end of life, it’s a part of life.
Have you always had a passion for theatre?
Jessica - Always. You get to have an experience with a group of other people and will share that time together forever. That unspoken bond of experiencing a glimpse into private life or world that is created on stage is probably one of the most intimate experiences we can have today. Especially in a world where everything is literally displayed on a digital stage.
Steven - Absolutely. I’m a big fan of all live art and music. There’s something special about seeing the actual moments unfold and resonate live through the artists with no technology or no manipulation. It feeds the soul with an organic type of soul food.
Has your style and approach to creating your shows changed much since you started?
Jessica - As with any new piece of work, this show has been rewritten and recrafted more times than my fingers and computer wish to admit. Yet each time we rewrite or work, the dialogue and intention of ‘Drowning’ go deeper and deeper. As we become clearer and clearer on intention.
Steven - For sure. I’m always looking at how can I tell a story in a new, fresh way that will shed light on humanity and hopefully inspire, or at the very least ask the hard questions.
What has been the best piece of advice you've been given?
Jessica - Everything is happening for you, not to you.
There will be setbacks and heartbreaks. There will be moments you hate your play. You will wonder if you’re a hack. You will hate rehearsal. You will wonder if it’s any good.
It’s not your job to pay attention to any of those things. Your job is to show up and be human... and hopefully in that humanity, someone else will be inspired and see themselves and the world a little differently.
Steven - The only people who don’t succeed are the ones who quit.
Do you have any advice you would offer a fellow theatre maker?
Jessica - Do it. It’s 90% bravery. There are a million excuses. A million reasons why it seems impossible. But it is those that are brave enough to sit down and write, audition, create, feel Dream, that change the world. And I’m not just blowing smoke. I have a household full of children- 9 to be exact. We have a blended family of adopted and biological children. It’s a madhouse. So, getting anything is done, other than just brushing my teeth and maybe showering is a Herculean feat.
Steven - Don’t ever quit. Storytelling is needed in our world. It heals, inspires, and causes needed change to happen. Without your voice, the world is worse off. DON’T QUIT!
And finally, what do you hope people will take away from this show?
Jessica - I would be thrilled if people’s own beliefs about death were challenged. If our audience was forced to look at themselves in bright light and confront their actual moral code versus one that has simply been pushed on them. This piece is dedicated to starting a conversation because without conversation we as a race are silent. I don’t think anyone wants that.
Steven - I’m hoping that they will take an honest look at death in general, but more so, look honestly look at their own inevitable death. Not as something to be feared, but something to be embraced. There is tremendous empowerment when you are no longer afraid of your death. “Only when you are no longer afraid of death is when you can truly live”.