Saturday, 14 November 2015

An Interview with Hannah Raven

Internet gremlins (something even Poe couldn't have imagined back in his day) gobbled this interview up, but now it's back with a vengeance. Hannah Raven tells me about her work with Poe Productions Australia and Poe Burlesque Theatre.

Poe Productions Australia and Poe Burlesque Theatre. These two titles immediately grab the attention of any fan of all things mysterious, macabre, and Poesque. At the risk of unveiling your secrets, who are you?

I am the creative director of Poe Productions Australia and the curator of Edgar Allan Poe Australia.
I first began my research into Poe’s life in early 2010. His writings had always struck a cord with me. His grotesque unapologetic imagery, his use of cryptography. His influence always seemed to leak into my work. Whether it was a one women cabaret, or a devised short piece of theatre history for a class presentation, romance and gothic undertones were always evident.
When I began to dig into Poe’s personal history, it became very clear that his relationships with the women in his life influenced the much of his work. Being a theatre maker, I came up with the concept for Edgar’s Girls in 2012 in my final year of drama school at The Actors Centre Australia. So much of his work marries parallels; The Macomb and the comical (Never Bet the Devil Your Head) the sickly and the beautiful (Eleonora)
Burlesque in the 21st century is a wonderful eclectic art form. It honours the traditions of classic striptease while bringing Parody and Satire to the mix in Neo forms. I threw my three loves into one big melting pot and Poe Productions Australia emerged.  Our premier production of Edgar’s Girls celebrated the women who loved, inspired and challenged the most prolific writer of the 19th Century  

Australia in the twenty-first century is far in time and space from the world of Edgar Allan Poe, yet his work endures and influences a number of contemporary writers and artists. Why do you think that is?

There is no doubt in my mind that Poe was an intelligent individual. He studied Latin, French and Greek mythology, was a skilled cryptographer and was more than versed in the English language. These qualities made him a great writer and poet, but what made him the brilliant artist he is known and respected as today?

Two words…Psychological Introspection.
Many people who read his work for the first time in the 19th century voiced the true horror and uneasiness they felt after reading a story of his (Helen Whitman being a very notable one) Well before Freud,  Poe was asking his readers to look within and come face to face with the morbid and frightful reality of the human psyche. Many of his stories deal with grief, loss and trauma …which then propels the protagonist of the tale into a state of guilt and a sense of lost identity. This is what makes Poe’s work so relatable….we identify with the subtext. Fear of the unknown and consequences of our actions haunt us, more often that not, subconsciously. It comes as no surprise to me that writers and artists who explore the deeper levels of human psychology are inspired by Poe’s unapologetic presentations of what it is to be human.

Of all the women in Poe's opus, who fascinates you the most? 

Signora Psyche Zenobia. The most prominent female protagonist in any of his stories. In A Predicament and How to Write a Blackwood Article, Poe’s unapologetic black humour is executed perfectly through this bolshy women from high society. It is very clear he is taking a stab at the Literati of the time. But what fascinates me most about Zenobia, is that she is in stark contrast to all the other women of Poe’s stories. She is not sickly, and there is no indication that she is a young, kept women.

What else should we know about your upcoming performances and projects?

Poe Productions is currently working on a play inspired by one of Poe’s most famous short stories….which one? You’ll just have to be patient I’m afraid.


In February 2015, I flew to California. It was my first pilot season in America and I had a few meetings and auditions with casting directors. I had worked very hard to save the money to get myself over there to be seen by the top industry professionals. But in the last week of my trip, I dropped everything, flew to JFK Air Port, and made my way to Baltimore in a matter of days. The man who had been my muse for so many years was buried only a train ride away. I reached the Westminster Church to find the Cemetery that surrounds it locked. Heavy snow that time of year had made parks and burial grounds to dangerous to be walking around in. The 8 foot high iron gate was not going to stop me from standing in front of his grave and paying my respects…I hadn’t come half way across the country to stare at his monument from behind an iron gate.  So I hoisted myself up and over the gate, slipping over on a patch of black ice as I landed on the other side, picked myself up and ran as fast as I could to the foot of Edgar Allan Poe’s grave. I made a promise to him then and there that I would dedicate a significant portion of my life to keeping his memory alive. To find a way of sharing his life story, his stories, his poems, with people on the other side of the world. I want people to admire Poe for his work, and how hard it was for him to accomplish the things he did. The first American writer who attempted to make a living solely from writing short stories, editorials and poetry. For me, it’s such an injustice to him when you mention his name, and people say “oh yeah, the Raven guy?” He wrote reviews, essays, created the detective fiction genre, and achieved all this with next to no financial aid. People are always amazed when I tell them how tough he had it…but that he never gave in to go work in finance, or a factory where he could have made a decent wage for himself. For me, he is the poster boy for the tortured, struggling artist. He set the bar.

I take my research into his work very seriously and am always keen connect with other Poe activists and fans.  My pages are listed below. Please feel free to drop me a line and share any Poe inspired work.

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