In 1999, English playwright Sarah Kane hanged herself by her shoelaces in a hospital bathroom. Only 28 years old, Kane was regarded by many as one of the rising stars of her generation, and her death sent shock waves through the theater world. For Sabrina Chap, a college student and artist who had recently worked on a production of Kane’s play Phaedra’s Love, the news was devastating.
“I don’t remember exactly where I was at the time,” says Chap, who grew to become a singer, playwright, and spoken word performer. “What I do remember was the shift in me, the space slightly to the left of my heart that hurt when I heard it was suicide.”
Nearly a decade later, Live Through This, a selection of artwork and essays by women artists, was born from this heartache. Edited by Chap, the book challenges the myth that a creative woman is doomed to self-destruction by recounting stories from those who suffered conflicts and survived.
“A lot of people are famous for their self-destructive tendencies,” says Chap, who cites Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Anna Nicole Smith, and even literary characters like Madame Bovary and Anna Karenina as among the casualties. “It’s time we heard the stories of the women that lived.”
Now in a rerelease, Live Through This delves deep into the psyches of poets, dancers, playwrights, and performers (including Patricia Smith, Eileen Myles, Kate Bornstein, and Margaret Cho) to reveal the forces that drive artists toward both passion and pain. What keeps them going? How do they overcome hardships, in order to survive and thrive? Dealing with subjects such as Weight Watchers, flossing, and chemotherapy, the entries move from laughter to tears with the turn of a page.
Chap’s own sustaining force is music. Since she was 5 years old, Chap has played classical music on the piano. The passion led her to study composition at a liberal arts college, where, due to a feminist spirit and sapphic stirrings, she felt at odds with her conservative classmates.
“I dealt with self-destructive impulses in college,” Chap says. “I looked around, and I seemed to be the only one that was dealing with these issues. And I didn’t have a community of like-minded artists to turn to as a means of support.”
The experience planted the seed that would become Live Through This, which is intended as a resource for those in similar straits. At the time, however, she immersed herself in her art, where she encountered a love that would change her life: composer Scott Joplin.
“I picked up Scott Joplin’s ‘Maple Leaf Rag,’ and it was so much fun,” Chap says. “Like classical music, it’s technical, but there’s a rhythm to it. You can really dance to it. Ragtime is pure joy.”