Courage at Play: An Interview with Danielle Pinnock
By Michelle Zaydlin--Danielle Pinnock is an actor and playwright who is using her talents to make a difference. In her newest piece, Body/Courage, she fights the silence that normally surrounds body image and self-acceptance. She shares diverse stories about body image and encourages the audience to think and challenge their own perceptions while also considering their own stories.
We had a chance to interview Danielle about what inspired Body/Courage, what she hopes her audiences learn from the piece and how young people can speak out about body image issues.
Michelle Zaydlin: What inspired you to put together the piece Body/Courage?
Danielle Pinnock: Documentary theatre is when an actor will go out and interview a group of diverse people on a certain topic. Body/Courage started as a master’s dissertation project at the Birmingham School of Acting in the UK. I wanted to focus on doing a one-woman documentary play based on the topic of body acceptance, because many were afraid to discuss this sensitive topic in the theatre.
My goal with this play was to interview a diverse group of women who had completely different backgrounds and stories about body image. The first five women who were interviewed and portrayed included a burn survivor, the first plus-size actress to be accepted into a graduate acting program in San Francisco, a transgender surgeon, a pageant contestant and a woman who removed her freckles through plastic surgery. The production now shares stories from 20 interviews, selected from 300 interviews I personally conducted—interspersed with scenes from my own journey. I portray women and men in this production and all of the words in this production are verbatim from the interviews.
There are only a few actors who have delved into this topic with such specificity. The play originally started to help encourage a positive conversation about body image with audience members, but it has transformed into so much more over the last five years.
MZ: What message do you hope the audience gets from this piece?
DP: I hope the audience can connect with a little piece of themselves in this production. My goal with Body/Courage is not only to create a place for the audience to discuss their body acceptance journey; I would like to challenge them to see beauty inside themselves as well as in others. This play, in a powerful way, is like a mirror being held up to the audience. Art is definitely imitating life in Body/Courage
MZ: How does it feel to expose vulnerability in such a powerful way?
DP: It is the scariest thing in the world. That is where the “courage” of Body/Courage comes into play. This is the first time I am sharing my own body acceptance journey and it is definitely scary to know that people will know the ins and outs of my struggles with weight and food. I am such a private person and am so confident when performing the stories of others. I finally got to a place where I realized my story could potentially help someone on their journey to loving their own body. I can’t be afraid anymore I have to have the courage to tell my story.
MZ: How have people responded to the piece so far? Is this what you expected?
DP: The response has been very positive. The greatest thing about this production is, after the show is finished, when people come up to me and ask if they can share their stories for the play!
MZ: What is your favorite part of Body/Courage?
DP: It would have to be the interview process and then having the people that participated sitting in the audience and seeing their stories being shared. That is the cherry on top for me.
MZ: How can other people use this message to speak out?
DP: Body/Courage is designed to promote conversations around many different topics of body acceptance—so many that it would be difficult for the audience to not see themselves in certain characters. Body/Courage also helps remove the shame that may be associated with eating disorders, addiction, sexual abuse, gender identity and other issues. The play serves as a mirror and it challenges the audience to discover the beauty within themselves and others.
MZ: What is your favorite part of being an advocate for body positivity?
DP: Inspiring other women in the arts, who may be plus-size, to never limit themselves based on what society tells them to do. Our bodies can be used as vehicles for change.
MZ: How do you think you have grown as a person and performer from this piece?
DP: This play continually encourages me to love myself. It reminds me that I am a continuous work in progress. This play holds me accountable and has encouraged me to have a positive relationship with food. More than 300 interviews have been conducted for this play, and at the end of each interview, people will say, “Wow, this really helped me,” or “Sharing my story feels therapeutic.” These stories have helped me in such a powerful way and I can finally say I am no longer at odds with my body.
About the blogger: Michelle Zaydlin is currently a senior at the University of Michigan and will be graduating this May with a B.S. in neuroscience and Spanish. She is currently involved with NEDA as a coordinator of the second annual Ann Arbor, MI NEDA Walk and is a member of Dance Marathon, which helps support pediatric rehabilitation therapies at local children’s hospitals. She also works as a physics study group leader through the science learning center at the University of Michigan and as a behavior technician doing applied behavior analysis (ABA) with children on the autism spectrum.
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Images courtesy of Nathanael Filbert and Joe Mazza