Shaken shook audiences when it premiered as part of Short + Sweet Festival, in Wellington 2016, and took home the award for best actor (Raquel Roderick).
Emily talks here about why she wrote it.
Shaken is a story that I feel both deeply connected to and achingly helpless about.
I was born in Christchurch making it my original “hometown”, although my parents and I moved to Golden Bay when I was eight months old. There are family connections to the city that reach back before my memory, so Christchurch is to me like the extended family member who you are bound to, have a familial fondness for, but only really connect with at milestone events.
In 2011, shortly after the February earthquake, I had a milestone event that obligated me to return to Christchurch: my fourth pituitary surgery for a pesky tumour that insisted on growing back approximately every three years. There was no neurosurgery at Dunedin Hospital at the time (we sorted that out in due course, in determined Southern style), which was why I was referred to Christchurch.
Four days after my operation in May of 2011 at around 5.30 pm, a 5.3 shake hit. My ward was on the fifth floor and the sensation was akin to being on a boat in the middle of the roiling ocean. We swayed and bobbed and I held my breath and willed it to pass. The two octogenarian women in the beds opposite me cried out as their dementia augmented their fear. For the next forty-five minutes there was a power cut. Generators kicked in to power any crucial machinery.
One of the nurses came and sat with us in the dark and talked to me about her wariness of life in quake city. She didn’t feel stoic or hardened. She felt drained and frazzled, and wanted to remove her family from the continuing trauma of aftershocks. Another nurse who had worked on the ward was crushed to death in the February quake. The nurse who spoke to me wasn’t a weak or defeated woman. She was a human being whose coping mechanisms were severely stretched.
Shaken was written in part as an elegy to the city in which I was born and have been saved in surgery. It is a reflection on the fallibility of “closure” and “moving on”. At the same time it is a celebration of human spirit and the beating, passionate, and robust hearts of a community that is determined to remain just that. Christchurch is not just a place, but a site of people, histories, institutions, and stories that no quake, or other catastrophe, will ever wipe out.
By playwright, Emily Duncan