Blood Memory

Memory comes before knowledge.” – Eber Hampton

"You were humming like something lightening'd struck alive." The Redhead (Gabrielle DeBrequette) and Gowdie (Bryn Booth) tell dreams in a blocking rehearsal for The Love Talker

"You were humming like something lightening'd struck alive."
The Redhead (Gabrielle DeBrequette) and Gowdie (Bryn Booth) tell dreams in a blocking rehearsal for The Love Talker

In the past few weeks as we’ve embarked on our collective journey into Two Plays for Lost Souls, I’ve been struck by how innately everyone in the room has seemed to just know these plays. For one thing, our actors are brilliant, and the talent and fearlessness in the room is a joy to encounter every day. But after our last table read, as the team worked to unpack The Love Talker, one phrase just kept swimming through my mind with each discovery:

Blood memory.

Blood memory is that innate knowledge we all possess at birth, something in us that recognizes some of the life that our ancestors knew. It’s our physical and spiritual connection to ancestral cultures, languages, songs, loves, fears, and losses—our bodily knowledge of the past. In the scientific world, this is known as “genetic memory.” Studies on mice have shown that after being trained to fear specific smells, genetic descendants demonstrate an extreme aversion to those same smells despite having never encountered them, leading scientists to speculate that neurological disorders such as phobias, anxieties, depression, and post-traumatic stress are genetically inherited. A parent’s traumas and triumphs are passed down to their children in their DNA, just like eye color and height. 

The women in these plays—isolated in colonial mansions on hereditary estates and battered familial homes in the Appalachian hollows—are haunted by conditions they know, but cannot explain, nor fully understand. The young women in The Love Talker are haunted by old world spirits—forces clinging to the backs of ancestral migrants who themselves mixed blood with those carrying ancient knowledge imported from other old worlds far and wide. Here, the weight of centuries worth of heartbreak across enormous geographic expanses rests on our shoulders. Here, we are born tired. 

But, we are also born resilient. Bred with the capacity to change our stories. To act.

I have always been drawn to theater because, like many artists, I feel at home around people who ‘speak my language.’ Theater is a communal art; in it we find and share a common language—one where a look in an actor’s eye, a gesture, the swell in a musical phrase, or a subtle light cue can convey whole histories of meaning to people who have never even seen a play. We understand it because it just… ‘works.’ Perhaps it isn’t just our ability to relate that connects us to Gowdie and Bun, but a deep and ancient knowledge—passed across millennia from parent to child and child to parent, from actor to audience and audience to actor—of how it feels to be alive on this earth. How it has always felt. 

And what it might mean to go off the path and feel something new…

I cannot wait to explore these plays, to watch them grow, and to share them with our audiences. They tell us so much about what it means to be alive, to be human interlopers in a world of ancient knowledge and wisdom. To be here, now, with each other. And, perhaps, what we might do next.

--Leah Taylor
Assistant Director, Two Plays for Lost Souls,
September 12, 2017