PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — The play is called ‘‘Behind Closed Doors,’’ but it’s really about opening them up.
Through an innovative project of the Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 15 women survivors have come together to write and perform an original one-act play about their experiences in abusive relationships — including some who had never previously talked about their ordeals.
The idea of the project, put on by a survivors’ task force known as SOAR, for Sisters Overcoming Abusive Relationships, was to help raise awareness about domestic violence, which affects 1 in every 4 women in the U.S., according to federal statistics. But several cast members said at a scene screening Monday that it turned out to be much more: a critical part of their own healing process.
‘‘I feel like it has finally come up, and I can finally release it and do away with it,’’ said Satta Jallah, a singer and musician who, in one of the play’s monologues, opens with three powerfully declared words: ‘‘I have survived.’’
The production — which emphasizes survival, not victimhood — has been months in the making. The women met with two teaching artists at Trinity Repertory Company, Michael Williams and Francesca Montanile, for 10 90-minute sessions at which they were prompted to talk and write about their experiences.
They started building trust by playing theater games, Williams said, and from there the material for the play started trickling out. Some women wrote poems about what had happened to them, others compiled lists. Some, at first, didn’t want to write anything at all.
Eventually, the co-directors wove the women’s own words into a script that loosely follows the arc of a relationship — from falling in love to the beginnings of feeling trapped to being physically and sexually abused to eventually leaving the relationship and becoming a survivor.
The play, which features the 15 women sitting in chairs arranged in a semi-circle onstage, was scheduled for performance Monday night at Trinity Rep. Williams said he hopes to be able to take it on the road.
Cast member Kathy McCormick was skeptical at first. The 52-year-old South Kingstown resident had never told the details of her story, not to her now-28-year-old son, not to her sisters. But once she started opening up, she found, she couldn’t stop.
‘‘I'd type on my computer,’’ she said. ‘‘The more I typed, the more I wanted to type.’’
At first she'd just email her work in — that felt safer. Only later did she fully embrace the fellowship of the other domestic violence survivors involved in the project.
‘‘We fed off each other,’’ she said. ‘‘We learned that we were all in this together. I don’t feel alone anymore.’’
The play includes three monologues that detail McCormick’s own experiences, including when she finally left her abusive relationship when she was eight months’ pregnant, she said.
The play was funded in part through a grant to SOAR from the Mary Byron Project, a Kentucky-based group that works to raise awareness about domestic violence, and a corporate sponsorship. Proceeds to the sold-out show go to support Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence programs.
The coalition provided services to nearly 9,700 victims of domestic violence last year. At least 82 Rhode Islanders died at the hands of their abusers from 2001 through last year, according to the group.
‘‘The play is about surviving,’’ said cast member Patricia Rivera of Providence, who has been a member of SOAR for nine years. ‘‘We went through this. We live it every day.’’