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Behind the mask: Antrim resident Nancy Knowles brings her one-woman show to Jaffrey

  • Antrim resident Nancy Knowles will bring her one-woman show to the River Street Theatre in Jaffrey on Aprl 28-30. (Nicholas Handy / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Staff photo by Nicholas Handy—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • Antrim resident Nancy Knowles will bring her one-woman show to the River Street Theatre in Jaffrey on Aprl 28-30. (Nicholas Handy / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Staff photo by Nicholas Handy—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • Antrim resident Nancy Knowles will bring her one-woman show to the River Street Theatre in Jaffrey on Aprl 28-30. (Nicholas Handy / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Staff photo by Nicholas Handy—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • Antrim resident Nancy Knowles will bring her one-woman show to the River Street Theatre in Jaffrey on Aprl 28-30. (Nicholas Handy / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Staff photo by Nicholas Handy—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • Antrim resident Nancy Knowles will bring her one-woman show to the River Street Theatre in Jaffrey on Aprl 28-30. (Nicholas Handy / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Staff photo by Nicholas Handy—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • Antrim resident Nancy Knowles will bring her one-woman show to the River Street Theatre in Jaffrey on Aprl 28-30. (Nicholas Handy / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Staff photo by Nicholas Handy—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • Antrim resident Nancy Knowles will bring her one-woman show to the River Street Theatre in Jaffrey on Aprl 28-30. (Nicholas Handy / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Staff photo by Nicholas Handy—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • Antrim resident Nancy Knowles shows off her handmade mask and gloves during an interview at the Park Theatre visitor center in Jaffrey. Knowles created the mask to help portray her mother during her one-woman show.  Staff photo by Nicholas Handy

  • Nancy Knowles brings her one-woman show to Jaffrey this month. COURTESY PHOTO



Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Thursday, April 13, 2017

Trauma is somewhat new of a concept for Nancy Knowles. As a poet, singer, actress, and artist, Knowles has long known the word by definition, but it wasn’t until she began writing her one-woman play, “A Gift of Madness,” a little more than a decade ago that she began to realize that she had experienced it first hand.

“It’s still hard to talk about that night but it’s a story I knew I had to tell,” said Knowles, a witness survivor of the suicide of her younger brother when she was 26. “I have to put certain things into the play to help be present with the audience, something to soothe me.”

“A Gift of Madness” is coming to the River Street Theatre in Jaffrey on April 28 and 29 at 7:30 p.m., with an additional matinee at 2 p.m. on April 30. This is the first play to be presented at the River Street Theatre, a project of The Park Theatre.

As someone who has always used poetry to process, Knowles began to weave together the story of her brother’s suicide and the grief she and her mother felt on scraps of paper. As the story began to come together, Knowles realized that she could play both herself and her mother.

“It’s a story of survival,” said Knowles, who has lived in Antrim since 1986. “My mother was such a vibrant, creative woman. She had a foul mouth and was sassy and fun.”

Knowles said her mother was no newcomer to trauma when her brother committed suicide, as she had already lost her firstborn child near the end of World War II to a kidney disease.

“Imagine losing two children,” said Knowles. “She chose to survive. It wasn’t without a lot of work. After my brother died, she just had to pull herself together.”

Equal parts hilarious and heart wrenching, Knowles’ play is a tale of herself and her mother “swinging fists at fate and thumbing noses at demons,” according to the “A Gift of Madness” website.

“A witness survivor of sibling suicide, Knowles engineers her own thriving while pondering how her mother, stalked by loss, pulled off hers,” reads the website.

During the play’s development, Knowles spend time in Nantucket at an art colony, which gave her freedom to “call the shots.” Due to the subject of her play, Knowles was tight-lipped at first in sharing drafts of the script.

“That’s the nature of trauma, you don’t want to be yakking to a bunch of people,” said Knowles. “I was fortunate to have a few trusted people along the way.”

“A Gift of Madness” has blended together many of Knowles talents and interests, melding poetry, song, mask making, and more.

During early interactions of the play, Knowles played her mother directly, but later decided to put her mask-making skills to the test, creating a papier-mâché mask to portray her mother.

Performing at the River Street Theatre — which has a stage of about four feet by eight feet — will present a new set of challenges for Knowles. With a smaller stage and less lighting, Knowles said she is going to have to be more colorful with her words.

“The power of the play is in its words,” said Knowles. “I’m going to need to find a way to bring in a little more spark and atmosphere without the lighting.”

Having learned more about trauma in the years since she began working on the play, Knowles said she hopes to parlay her experiences into some outreach opportunities. Forums and creative workshops are just a few ideas that Knowles has come up with.

“The play has had such an effect on people,” said Knowles. “People don’t think of it as my story, they think of it as their story. Doing this play has given me so much confidence and courage. This is worth doing, even if it’s just for me.”