These days, she often finds herself plumbing the depths of the human psyche as she searches for inspiration for her performance art.
It’s murky down there to be sure, and some strange and unexpected things are apt to bubble up, but for, Dillard, exploring those fathoms can also be a life-saving act.
Dillard’s latest theatrical venture, a one-woman show titled “How to Survive a Poison Apple,” debuts in Astoria this July.
Part magic realist musical, part neo-feminist performance art and part fractured fairy tale, Poison Apple tells the tale of an abandoned princess struggling with anorexia. As her self image evolves, she cavorts with other princesses and wise dwarves, climbs aboard submarines, and faces down one very forbidden piece of fruit.
It’s a little bit funny, a little bit tragic, and it’s definitely the most personal thing Dillard has ever written or performed.
“I call it a storyscape because I’m telling stories in the form of narration and storytelling and also in the form of the song,” Dillard said. “I switch characters. I feel that I’m a form bender.”
Dillard started writing the songs and stories that would come to comprise “Poison Apple” three years ago. Bits would come to her in odd moments, often late at night, often in dreams.
She felt compelled to tease out the bits, to understand the messages that were bubbling up from her own depths.
Dillard was teaching children’s theater classes at the time, and she’d grown dismayed by her female students’ abiding obsession with pretty princesses. She was also making her way through her own failed fairy tale ending, having recently split with a boyfriend who turned out to be less than princely, and she found herself pondering the subconscious messages society was sending to girls and women.
She thought about Snow White, and the way a bite from an enchanted apple had sent her into a sleep befitting the dead.
She thought back to a time when, in the grips of her own struggle with anorexia, she could eat nothing but apples.
She also thought about alchemy, how seemingly incompatible elements can combine in unexpected ways, and how they can be transformed by that combining, even when the pressure seems too great to bear.
“I feel I’m kind of an alchemist because I try to expose things that are hard,” Dillard said. “They’re hard for me to say and sometimes I think they’re hard for people to hear, but before a diamond gets turned into a diamond, it’s a rock. It has to be compressed.”
Someday, Dillard would love to take “Poison Apple” on the road to high schools and colleges across the country.
In the meantime, her own self-conception is evolving along with her art. She’ll still blanch at insensitive comments people make about her appearance (a man at a recent show looked her up and down and said, “You don’t look like you have an eating disorder now.”) or cringe when she sees a young girl complimented solely for her looks, but she’s learning to speak up about how she’s feeling, to say the things that are difficult to say, to share her story, over and over. (Indeed, a happy ending for her own story looks rather promising: if you catch her show, don’t forget to look for her artistic and life-partner, Eric McEuen, accompanying her musically.)
In the end, it’s a longer journey of growth and discovery Dillard is committed to – and committed to sharing with others.
“Experience is really the only thing that can grow someone,” Dillard said. “Hard things are hard but sometimes they’re necessary for transformation … All the stuff I’ve experienced has been necessary poison … So I’m going to make it into the poison that turns into medicine.”
How To Survive a Poison Apple
an electric one-woman musical storyscape
Saturday, July 7 @ KALA
Doors open 8pm, show at 8:30pm
Tickets are $10 at the door. To retain a seat for the show, advised to arrive when doors open.
• Audience Suggestion: This show is created for young and old to enjoy and experience. Suggested age 10 years and up please.
• Approx. 1 hour running time.
KALA is located at 1017 Marine Drive in Astoria
View a video clip of “Poison Apple”.