Joan of Arc: Reclaiming the Narrative

Joan of Arc: Reclaiming the Narrative

Who will tell your story? Unless you plan on writing down every single detail of your life in permanent ink, the facts, the motives and the perceptions of your life will probably be misconstrued. Joan of Arc was just a teenager when she was burned at the stake for being a witch, among other crimes. Who’s telling her story now? How do we remember her? The SLU theatre production of “Saint Joan of Arc” was recently staged by Lucy Cashion, a theatre professor at SLU, and she made sure to get the story right.

“We couldn’t find a Joan that we liked until we got to Shakespeare really,” said Cashion. And that’s understandable. Many versions of Joan of Arc’s story were written by old men, which is one of the reasons Cashion decided to craft a devised production of Joan’s story.”

A devised production is one where there is no official script to go off of, mainly using a combination of preexisting material and original ideas to create something entirely new and unique. Cashion, the cast, and a program named Prison Performing Arts came together to create a show in which they could construe the facts, motives and perceptions of Joan of Arc.  

Devising a work takes a lot of effort and research, but Cashion said what makes the process so enlightening is that “everyone is in on this game of taking apart ‘why do we think this way about this?’ and ‘what does this mean about us?’” 

Those were the questions that everyone involved in “Saint Joan of Arc” was able to answer. The production was devised not only by SLU theatre students, but included help from incarcerated women at the Vandalia Correctional Center through the Prison Performing Arts program, a St. Louis-based program that helps incarcerated people get involved with theatre. 

Through everyone’s effort, Cashion styled the regularly medieval Joan into the likes of a heavy metal and goth frame. This Joan of Arc wore a beanie and listened to hard rock. And in this process of devising, everyone was able to examine the story of Joan and how that story has been told since the 15th century.

“When making art, it doesn’t matter what you’ve done in your past, it doesn’t even matter necessarily if you’re incarcerated or if you’re getting your degree in prison … your ideas can have any kind of value,” said Cashion.

In order to develop the production, Cashion and others traveled to the Vandalia Correctional Center to write, learn and create for “Saint Joan of Arc. This provides a unique look at the narrative of the French girl who was burned at the stake for witchcraft.

Cashion said, “There were a lot of things that the women working with PPA were able to relate to and point out about her [Joan’s] story that I didn’t even notice.”

Those perspectives of the creators are what set a devised performance like this one apart from a production whose scenes were written centuries ago. Misrepresentation, perspective and movement through an unfair world are all points of a theme that examines the telling of narrative. Maybe that’s why this Joan wasn’t construed as a traitor or as a liar, but as a woman who trusted her instincts and was burned for it. She wasn’t perfect, but she did navigate an environment where everyone was against her. That is how she managed her narrative, and that is why Cashion’s adaptation of “Saint Joan of Arc” added to the conversation about the life of a saint.