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Oral by Viv Gordon

[Image credit: Kim von Coels]

Viv Gordon is a theatre maker, survivor of childhood sexual abuse & an arts and mental health campaigner developing new projects that explore the creative articulation of trauma. Her projects are both a campaign/ protest and an attempt to bring survivor voices, including her own into greater visibility. She is an Associate Artist with Strike a Light Festival.

My new show ORAL is a show about mouths. What goes into them. What comes out of them and what they are actually for. ORAL is based on my own lived experience of childhood sexual abuse. It’s the second show that I have made based on my own story. My first show I am Joan was about finding self-belief and resilience through inhabiting different Joans. Joan Jett, Joan Baez, and Joan of Arc to name but a few. ORAL is about speaking out, I’m working with a bigger team, and it feels more ambitious and scarier.
ORAL has been a hard show to make. As a survivor of abuse it’s all bloody hard. I’m terrified, I’m not sleeping well. Abuse taught me to be silent, keep other people’s secrets, it’s hard wired into me not to tell and this show is about doing the exact opposite. I live with a long-term mental health condition and we take that seriously as we make the work, thinking carefully about access and safeguarding for me and everyone engaging with the work.
Abuse happens in private, behind closed doors, the victims isolated, coerced and silenced. Shame, secrecy and fear - all make it incredibly difficult to forge community and find our voices. These are the themes that I wanted to explore in the work; and mouths, mouths in particular. My abuse experiences have made it difficult for me to access dental health care which we explore in the show.
I like the title being provocative, ‘Viv Gordon performs ORAL’. Abuse is shocking, ORAL abuse is shocking and its hard, terrifying and potentially dangerous to speak out. ORAL articulates something hopeful about the possibility of change through finding a collective voice which is calling for a trauma informed society.
The work is important because of the stigma and denial around the scale and severity of abuse. Survivors experience marginalisation, isolation and lack political voice.

[Image credit: Kim von Coels]

There are 11 million survivors of childhood sexual abuse in the UK today, there’s a growing awareness of how Adverse Childhood Experiences impact on the life chances and health outcomes of survivors. At last, there is an emerging survivor activism that recognises the systemic nature of the issues that we face as a community. I consider myself lucky (ish), I’ve been able to access incredible support to be able to speak up when millions can’t. My work is about representation and owning our own stories. ORAL is an attempt to locate our struggle as a civil rights struggle.
As part of the project I’m initiating a creative research project to get survivors voices into dentistry training and clinical practise. There’s a growing awareness of the need for trauma informed approaches in health and social care and ORAL contributes to this. Alongside the show I’m launching a campaign called Stand up and Count. It’s my response to the shocking statistic of 11 million adult survivors in the UK alone. This number is equivalent to the estimated numbers of people killed in the holocaust, yet we have no memorials to honour us, or help us remember.

Stand up and Count invites people to join in a simple act of collective mourning for lost innocence. I decided I would light a candle every day to cherish a life affected by childhood sexual abuse, to acknowledge all the 11 million would take me over 30,0000 years. The campaign asks people to light candles in solidarity and register their action on our website.
This weekend, the 31 March, I am honoured to be speaking at a walk for survivors, the second ever event of its kind in the UK. I’ve marched for many causes through my life and never thought I’d see the day that I would be able to march for the cause I am most passionate about - let alone speak at it.

Change is upon us and its incredibly exciting to be a part of it.

ORAL will play part of The Sick Of The Fringe festival at Camden People’s Theatre on the 6 and 7 April then tour in the South West. This performance is commissioned by Strike A Light Festival and The Sick Of The Fringe. The project is funded using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England, with additional support from Take Art, Activate.


For more information visit: cptheatre.co.uk or see vivgordon.com

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