Victoria Visiko does not want to play the victim. Instead, she wishes for her drama, “Whispering Inhibitions,” to invoke feelings of strength and solidarity among sexual-abuse survivors.
Inspired by her own story, Visiko’s tale centers around Lara Brelle, an award-winning actor, playwright, director and producer in New York City. It follows Brelle’s life from 1970s to the present with moments of darkness, including sexual abuse, breakdowns, enlightenment and joy. Visiko is writer, director and producer of the play that is slated for a five-performance run at the Multi-Use Community Culture Center on Atlantic Avenue, Jan. 9-13.
“The first question people usually ask me is, ‘how much of this story is about you?’ I usually say, ‘about 85 percent,’ and I don’t tell them exactly what, but be assured that most of this has happened to me,” Visiko says. “I didn’t want this to come out to be ‘feel sorry for me,’ me too, and all that. I wanted it to be something that would tell people who had been in my position that you are strong, and you can survive, and that there are people who can help.”
Seeds of the play were sown in a personal journal that Visiko kept in the 1980s as she came to terms with her own experiences. Though Visiko says she didn’t mean for “Whispering Inhibitions” to be a political statement, she admits that the MeToo movement did act as a catalyst, prompting her to take it to the stage. Civil rights activist Tarana Burke started the MeToo campaign several years ago, but it has been only a couple of years since hundreds of women began to come out and share their traumatic incidents.
“Whispering Inhibitions” is one such sharing. The drama, with five local actors, follows Brelle as a child, played by Visiko’s daughter, a 20-something and a 50-something. The character was molested as a child and raped as an adult. Most of the story occurs in New York City with some scenes in a small town. These women of different ages interact with each other throughout the play. The 50-year-old Brelle writes her play through the whole performance, recalling her past through her younger versions, eventually winning an award. Her acceptance speech features Visiko’s voice in parts.
“So, if something is happening with the younger child, then the two older Lara Brelles are with her,” Visiko says.
It wasn’t an easy story to write, she says. Still, Visiko prevailed and “Whispering Inhibitions” found itself in the lineup for the Fringe Festival last September.The Fringe performance met with good reviews, including one from critic Jack Garner, who wrote:“Perhaps watching Victoria Visiko’s brave play, “Whispering Inhibitions,” was the best example of what the Fringe Festival is supposed to do.” There were other reviews as well, including one from producer and writer John Cimasi.
Its success—both performances attracted some 50 people each (the MuCC holds 70)—and feedback from talk-back sessions prompted Visiko to write the two-act version that runs this week. After the MuCC, she plans to take it to New York City as an off-Broadway production. Visiko aims to attract well-known actors to play the parts.
“I do have some backers who’ll help me produce it financially; I’m always looking for more with that,” she says.
One backer is Visiko’s husband, Wayne Knox, former director of University of Rochester’s Institute of Optics, who also handles light and sound for the production.
“It is a journey that started in 1989 and this journey has continued, is continuing with my actors, with my husband, with the tech crew and with the audience,” she says.
“Whispering Inhibitions,” is an adult play, one that wasn’t met with open arms by artistic directors in town, Visiko says, noting that the raw emotion of the play wasn’t deemed regular fare for local audiences. Rochester is more open to comedies and musicals, she observes. Visiko appreciates the local theatre and dance scene, and makes it a point to say she understands that arts and cultural organizations need to be profitable.
“So, what did I do? I produced it myself and got the most incredible feedback ever, and this is from a Rochester audience,” she says.
Visiko, who speaks openly with emotion, is no stranger to the stage. She studied theatre at Nazareth College, then moved to New York City, where she worked and studied with the Royal Shakespeare Company, Betty Buckley, Martha Graham Modern Dance and at New York University for script writing and poetry. She has directed and assisted with several new plays off-Broadway, which remains a passion. That drive led her to launch her own company, Victoria Visiko Productions LLC. Her ultimate goal is to help new playwrights blossom.
“There is a space for new plays,” she says. “I want playwrights to think they can come to me, that they’re not going to be shunned because (their play is) completely different.”
For now, Visiko, wants to take “Whispering Inhibitions” to New York City, much like she would with other new plays in the future. Most of all, she hopes her story will embolden her audiences and help sexual-abuse victims become survivors.
“I want to take my audiences so they can understand … what actually happens in this situation over and over again,” she says. “Maybe understand to the point where they can understand themselves and if this happens to them, they can stand strong too. That is the most important thing to me, to help people understand and be able to get past that fear and hatred of themselves.”