Get Around Me: an Interview with Gillian English


Gillian English’s new one-woman show Get Around Me playing Sunday May 3rd and Monday May 4th at the Comedy Bar is a personal and significant story. While representing Canada as a member of the Australian Football League (AFL), she was sexually assaulted by a Canadian. The attack was actively encouraged by a member of Team Canada and while it was happening Team Canada members applauded and cheered. While her attacker was charged, the AFL has not penalized any other players involved.

How did English end up deciding to bring her story to the stage? Initially, she “was already planning to do a solo show about Aussie Rules Footy. But…had planned to make it a very positive story about how team sports had changed [her] life. Then [she] was assaulted and everything changed.”

She struggled with whether or not to create the show or try to “bury” the event. “I’ve always needed to confront my emotions head on; and this was no exception. I figured if I couldn’t use my art to process what I was feeling, then what was the point?”

Although her friends and family supported her throughout the creative process, “There were days when [English] would feel like human garbage, and…ask [her] best friend and creative partner Brie Watson “Why did I say I would do this?” and [Watson] would always tell [her] ‘Because you have something to say, and people need to hear you say it.’”

English has an extensive background in theatre. Born and raised in Nova Scotia, she trained first at Dalhousie University, followed by the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. In Toronto she is the founder and artistic director of The Theatre Elusive and has other theatre and television credits to her name. Live performance is part of English’s passion for theatre, but being live has had a large impact on Get Around Me as both her story and a larger message. “The details make it about me, but swap those out, and it could be about any woman, anywhere in the world. I don’t have a fourth wall in my solo shows. I like to engage with my audience, and take them with me in my story.”

It’s not just engaging with the audience, either. As a one-woman show, Get Around Me makes the subject relatable and accessible. “Talking about sexual assault is very personal, especially knowing there’s no way I’m the only survivor in the room. The live performance makes it human; it gives assault and all its ugly aftershocks a face and a voice.”

Her honesty has encouraged others to come forward. “After every performance, there are always women (and men) who want to tell me their story. They’ve been through the same experiences, and many have never said anything, and now they feel like they can. That means so much to me, and it comes from sharing a live experience.”

Of course, not all the response is positive. English notes that “Lots of people have lots of things to say about me, and what kind of woman I am for talking about my assault so publicly.” The negative comments don’t concern her. Instead she has set her sights on arguing for structural and cultural changes “to protect women athletes across this country so they can practice their sport and be respected as the athletes they are, not token girls to entertain the men or meet a quota.”

Although the show premiered in New York’s FRIGID Festival, English is excited about bringing the show back to Canada. “It’s harder to ignore something when it’s happening right in front of you….what really needs to happen is [for] Canadians to stand up and see that this is happening here, and to say that is not alright and we won’t stand for it.”

When asked what she’d like an audience to take home from the show, she answers: “I want people to walk away feeling empowered…I refuse to be quiet just because it makes some people uncomfortable. Being sexually assaulted made me awfully uncomfortable too…We need to support each other, and put a stop to slut shaming and victim blaming. I hope the audience of Get Around Me know that they have a voice and will be heard too. That they do not need to be afraid or ashamed, and that they aren’t alone. I am in this fight for all of us.”


Photo of Gillian English by Dahlia Katz