In the summer of 2012, I was a graduate student trying to answer one simple question with my
dissertation: What is a folk opera?
As a part of my investigation, I decided to write my own folk opera, and that work developed in
the most organic way I can imagine. I began with a small collection of songs that I had written
recently and in quick succession; I recognized a connection between these four songs, but it was
a through-line that, at the time, I couldn’t quite name.
As the rest of my research progressed, I arrived at a preliminary definition of “folk opera”: music
drama as a living, social practice. Or, in other words: what separates folk opera from other forms
of music drama is its inherent social consciousness.
But with one question answered, another question appeared: Who were the folk for my opera?
“You Don’t Know the Night” was an unusual song for me. I had certainly written very personal
songs before, but few had ever been quite so bluntly true to life. The song just came out of me
one night. I never intended to write it. This song was the first anything I ever wrote from my
experience as a survivor of sexual abuse.
It was in this song that I located my “folk”: survivors of sexual violence.
I remember telling my sister, in the early stages of writing the opera, that I didn’t want to write a
“rape” play. Looking back on my resistance to the subject, I am forced to look back also upon
my years of silence and of shame. For years I convinced myself that what happened to me was a
bad dream, a mis-remembrance, and, for a long time, I firmly believed that I would take the
memories of these encounters with me to my grave.
I know that I am not alone in my silence. Survivors are systematically silenced everyday. We are
made to feel ashamed, and we are forced to take on our attackers’ guilt. I realized that survivors
of sexual violence have all the makings of a folk group, but for too long the boundaries of space,
social propriety, and fear have kept us from uniting, from forming a true folk community. Our
shared silence has divided us. This is why I started The Folkland: a digital art gallery dedicated
the works of sexual assault survivors and their loved ones.
With all the power of the Internet to bring people together, it is my hope to use my folk opera
and to use The Folkland to initiate a grass-roots folk art movement and, in doing so, to create a
real community for survivors and their allies.
I started The Folkland because I wanted to break my silence. Because I wanted to create a space
where survivors never have to feel ashamed. Because I wanted to help other survivors tell their
stories. Because I believe that our experiences have just as much power to bring us together as
they do to keep us apart.
To all survivors, to anyone who loves a survivor, to anyone who has been intimately affected by
any involuntary sexual act: I invite you to join me. I invite you to break your silence on your own
terms and to claim your folk identity. I invite you to build a community with me.