This is for you, Anna

Nominated for a Dora Mavor Moore Award for Innovation in Theatre.

This is for you, Anna is a haunting exploration of revenge, liberation and motherhood. When it made its debut in the 1980s, it was the first of its kind: a collective creation that strove to construct a theatrical story that was wholly female. Harthouse.ca

 In 1983, Nightwood Theatre invited me to make a short piece for the Women's Perspective Festival in Toronto. I was haunted by the story of Marianne Bachmeier, a German woman whose seven-year-old daughter, Anna, was violated and murdered. She shot the murderer during his trial, saying “This is for you, Anna,” and that prompted this investigation into women and violence.

I gathered up three like-minded artists: Suzanne Khuri from The 1982 Theatre Company; founding member of Nightwood, Maureen White; and an actor freshly graduated from the National Theatre School, Ann-Marie MacDonald. Our short piece was so successful that we plunged into a full production. We were a radical collective: we all performed, we all wrote, and we refused to have a director. Calling ourselves The Anna Project, we created a non-narrative, imagistic piece that continues to inspire women to this day. 

The show was produced by Nightwood Theatre at Theatre Passe Muraille in 1984 and continued for another two years, touring to Ottawa, Manitoulin Island, a women’s shelter, a women’s prison, moot courts, several cities in England, and a final showcase at the World Stage Festival in Toronto in 1986.

As successful as our show was, the patriarchy didn’t like it. 

Prominent theatre critic Ray Conlogue wrote a blistering dismissal of the World Stage production in 1986. Though he acknowledged that the show was ‘stunning,’ he continued to say: Our society is engulfed in gender tension right now, and women are responsible for a good deal of it.. [Anna]  is a negative image of shattered, crippled women and its implied message to any male viewer is one of blame.

The characters on stage in This is for you, Anna  were the opposite of ‘shattered’ or ‘crippled’: they were funny, they were angry, they were bereaved. Even when they took the worst, most misguided actions, these women were always fighting back, for themselves and for their daughters. 

The play has been produced by many other ensembles, most recently in 2015 at the Hart House Theatre, by director Chelsea Dab who has graciously permitted me to use this still. 

Published by Canadian Theatre Review, Toronto, Summer 1985; and in The CTR Anthology,University of Toronto Press, Toronto,1993.