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Get To Know… Aurea Williamson

Aurea is a former Nurse and performer in 'Rebel Boob' a verbatim theatre show by Speak Up! Act Out! CIC (Angela El-Zeind) which our Artistic Director Katie was asked to choreograph. For National Nurse Week we sat down with Aurea to reflect on Rebel Boob and how it was combining her passion for the arts with her long career in nursing.

What is your background both in and out of the arts/theatre industry?

I trained as a nurse when I left home aged 18 working in both NHS and private sectors mainly on the surgical side – to begin with in orthopaedics and theatre departments where I quickly realised, I prefer people awake, before working out I wanted to focus on oncology, specifically breast care. I worked agency and in various other areas becoming an Oncology Research Nurse and then, in 2006, specialised in breast reconstruction surgery. I got my dream role in 2011, a hospital-based Macmillan Clinical Nurse Specialist in Breast Care (that's a mouthful!).

Since school, I'd always enjoyed drama and been involved in my local community group but after I was treated for cancer myself, I stopped planning what I'd do in years to come, just in case I didn't have that time. I started taking opportunities and in 2017, encouraged by my husband and son, I started a part-time acting class, for no other reason, but to see what I was capable of.

In 2019 my agent took me on, and I decided to take a year-long career break from nursing and see what happened, expecting nothing but to re-coup some energy. Since then, I consider myself lucky to have had some screen experience (a small role in a feature film, done shorts and student films) and become increasingly involved in (often ongoing) theatre projects which has allowed me to perform at Brighton Fringe, see parts of the country I'd never been to (Theatre In Education touring for example) and a highlight - visiting Amsterdam with Rebel Boob.

Why did you want to work on Rebel Boob?

I never went back to nursing (apart from a little pandemic interlude). The director of a play I was involved with at the time knew my background and showed me an advert looking for performers for the Rebel Boob R&D. I was on my career break at the time, and I'd been feeling guilty about even considering leaving the healthcare profession, but I knew straight away I wanted to be involved in some capacity, so I applied.

Rebel Boob felt like three different areas of my life coalescing into one. It was a theatre piece, and I was on a yearlong career break looking at changing direction to performance. It matched my background and experience perfectly so I felt I could add something worthwhile to the project. I also felt it could be cathartic for me personally. I had been treated for breast cancer myself in 2013, looked after by my colleagues at the time, before returning to the same nursing role.

At the time Rebel Boob was looking for performers I was seriously considering leaving nursing permanently. Partly because of that, I felt I could allow myself to be more honest and open (to others) and as a result, I felt vulnerable.

This might sound odd, but I wanted to see if I could speak, in an authentic way, other people's words about their diagnosis, treatment, and how they felt at the time and after treatment when everyone expects them to get on with it. Some of the words really resonated with me personally. Without the protective layer of being a nurse, which I had used (very successfully I might add) as a method to cope, could I, Aurea, as opposed to Aurea the nurse, vocalise those words? I didn't know. Through my diagnosis and treatment, I had one person (and a diary) I was completely honest with, but other than that I kept a certain amount of emotional distance and privacy about what had happened and how I'd felt. Six years post-diagnosis I felt ready to face my vulnerabilities in a more head-on way. The timing felt right. I felt it could make me stronger and I was ready. But I didn't know if I could do it. It felt very personal.

Since that first R&D in 2020, I have seen how audiences (including Health Care Professionals) respond – those who have been affected by cancer as well as those who haven't. There are so many themes within Rebel Boob I have heard patients say time and time again over the years; all this has just built on my passion for the project. I felt and still do feel strongly it is a show everyone should see.

Can you tell us more about how movement comes into your role in the piece?

In Rebel Boob I speak the words of different women. Choreography often accompanies those words sometimes in a supporting way. I speak a wonderful monologue "Love is in the air" about living in the moment where movement joyously accompanies the words.

At other times the movement opposes the words spoken just like in real life. I am not a dancer, but I get to create movement with a beautiful one; and while a monologue is spoken, we create the emotional relationship between a mother and a daughter.

Why do you think the movement is important as part of the construction of the show?

Movement is vital within the show It often depicts emotions that cannot or are difficult to express just by words, demonstrating engagingly, the difference between what is said and what might be felt. Movement holds the whole show together. And it gives the audience something to look at!

What is your favourite piece of music to dance to?

What a hard question! I don't think I can choose – I like loads of stuff … but I do like something with an underlying beat, a bit rocky …. so maybe something that gets all my limbs flaying about!


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