After speaking to Xan Fraser on the phone – lead actress in a jedda Productions play based on her real life experience of sexual assault as a 12-year-old – I got a text from Project Xan’s publicist. “The director has asked if you can please leave the interview until after opening night,” it read. Too late, I thought, guiltily. The fact the interview went ahead demonstrates to me two things: one, how open, generous and honest Xan Fraser is; and two, how considerate, professional and empathetic Writer/Director Hellie Turner is. She didn’t want Xan to have felt pressured or overwhelmed on opening night. This kind of emotional and professional support Xan received from Hellie and the rest of the production team shone through in the warm way she spoke of them. To me, it felt as though I were being given insight not only into the curious dynamics of the cast, but also into something of a family. And it is just one way in which Xan’s story proved to be not just heartbreaking, but also one of extraordinary hope, and powerful resilience.
KM: What was it like working with Hellie Turner?
XF: The process has been a very positive one. I feel supported by her, I trust her 100% and we have this natural connection. Hellie has done an amazing job writing the script; so much background work has gone into this piece. During the times I came to Perth before the show, it felt like I had my own team of researchers and lawyers. It was so therapeutic knowing people really had my back.
KM: How has it been, sharing an intensely private part of yourself with a director and the wider public?
XF: When I was on the court stand, and they showed pictures of myself passed out in hospital, when they held my pad from that night up in front of everyone…you can’t get more exposed than that. The media has been so respectful and I can’t speak more highly of them; that is why I am so willing to chat, why I am happy to spread the word of victim blaming and rape culture. I feel like I need to let out what has happened, and this is my way of doing that.
KM: Have people reached out to you in the process?
XF: Oh my god, when I did my first story, I had thousands and thousands of people commenting and sending me wishes and asking me for help. At that stage, I was suffering from PTSD and I couldn’t really help anyone; I was still processing it all myself. But when I became strong again, I had so many people coming up to me, thanking me for sharing my story. It was almost like I had given everyone permission to talk about rape culture. That really inspired me.
KM: Can you tell me a bit more about what your experience in court like?
XF: Very frightening, very intimidating, very surreal. If you’re a kid, you don’t know what courts are and what is going to happen. I went in there cold – I didn’t have any idea about what to expect, other than they wanted me to dress like a little girl, which I was. I just went into protection mode for myself; I didn’t show any emotion. I kind of think I was like Lindy Chamberlain in that sense – where she didn’t show any emotion and she was judged for it. There I was, thinking I was being brave and doing the right thing and answering the judge clearly, thinking that it would make me safe. But it totally worked against me. If I had got on the stand and cried and cried and cried, everything would have turned out differently. I was just a kid.
KM: Do you think the justice system has changed much?
XF: I don’t think so. I was totally traumatised when I read the court transcript. What was said went against my character and that really hurt me to the core. What the judge said, about me being composed… I think it is scary to think that he went on to higher places – it amazes me he got there in the first place.
I don’t think the justice system has changed much. Obviously there are some changes; children will be interviewed on film so they aren’t traumatised by the whole court setting and the attackers being in the same room. But we know that victim blaming and the kind of questions asked are still current.
KM: Was it challenging to create this work?
XF: It wasn’t challenging so much as it was a learning experience. I feel really comfortable with theatre – my family and I did amateur theatre for years and my son is a drama teacher, playwright and actor. The cast and crew have been wonderful; they have been so mindful to make sure I am okay. I chose to tell my story through theatre because it is where I feel the safest. I went to the first workshop with Hellie and I had to do a delivery to a panel about the content we would propose to put in the show and I just had to talk about myself and deliver a piece that was going to be in the show. I didn’t cry in that process and was a bit numb, because I was on medication for PTSD. Everyone who watched was crying, but it was like people were too scared to talk to me. The second time, I wasn’t on meds, and I cried to the panel and people came up to me after and I was so emotional. People respond to emotion and that was a learning thing for me: I learnt it was okay to cry, it’s okay.
KM: What can we as individuals do to combat this problem?
XF: I think it has to start with parents educating their children, picking them up from parties. I would take car loads of girls home; I was so scared of them being left out in the dark. It starts at home and it starts at school. That’s why I think it is important to target universities and students; to get to people before it happens. It’s about showing them it can be the difference between helping a girl at a party who is drunk and walking away. All these one percenters can change things, or stop terrible things from happening.
Businesses and schools can have seminars, have people like me come out and talk. I want to put together a piece that lets me tell my story to teenagers – sometimes they can relate to people that have been through this. I want to connect with people on a level they are interested in. This is real life stuff; this isn’t a piece of paper telling you that 3/5 girls get raped. This is me telling you that when you are at a party, this could happen to you.
KM: What do you want audiences to walk away feeling when they have seen the show?
XF: I don’t want anyone feeling sorry for me. I’m doing this as a survivor and I want to show people that humans can be very tough and can rise above everything. I want people to go away and just go wow, we need to educate our kids and our society. We need to talk to someone about our court system and how we can change it. I don’t want it to be doom and gloom. I’ve got on with my life, I have two amazing children and two amazing grandchildren and a husband that has supported me – without his help, I wouldn’t be here. There are good men out there. There is still hope for victims of crime. I would love to talk to the audience after the show and ask them their response, what they got out of it.
KM: On the opening night of Project Xan, what would you say to your 12-year-old self?
XF: I would say to myself, I’ve got your back, I’ve got this. I’m helping you and I’m speaking up for you. It’s 30-odd years later, but we’ve got this.
Interview by Katie McAllister