If We Were Birds

Written by:

Erin Shields

Cast Size:

Roles For:

  • Men: 2
  • Women: 7




Greek Play
Sexual Violence


90 min.

Year Written:



“Erin Shields’ award-winning play is a shocking, uncompromising examination of the horrors of war, giving voice to a woman long ago forced into silence, and placing a spotlight on millions of female victims who have been silenced through violence, delivered through the lens of Greek tragedy.” (From the CPO Website)


Philomela: Younger daughter of King Pandion.

Procne: Older daughter of King Pandion.

King Pandion: King of Athens.

King Teresu: King of Thrace.

Slave Women: A group of women captured in battly be Tereus, given as a gift to King Pandion, played by the Chorus (shorthand – Bleeding, SW, etc.)

Itys: Son of Procne and Tereus played by the Bleeding One and a piece of white cloth.

Servant: Servant to Procne played by the Bleeding One.

The Chorus: A chorus of ravaged women who have been transformed into birds by the gods. The Young One, The Pregnant One, The Bleeding One, The Pious One, The One with Dwindling Dignity.

First Produced:

2010, Tarragon Theatre


If We Were Birds is available through the CPO Website. Also published by Playwrights Canada Press.

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Governor General’s Award

A Note on the Chorus, from the published edition:

“These characters are inspired by testimonials of women survivors from the following conflicts: Nanking (1937), Berlin (1945), Bangladesh (1971), Bosnia-Herzgovina (1992-1995), and Rwanda (1994). Each character relates to a particular conflict and incorporates details from many stories.

It is not my intention for an audience to match the conflict to the character, but rather to experience a diverse chorus of contemporary women who have suffered sexual violence enacted as a weapon of war. Casting should be as diverse as possible in terms of race, age, body type and voice. Their physicality should be bird-like as the Chorus and human as the Slave Women and Servants.”


This play includes depictions of violence, sexual violence, and suicide.

Featured Play Category:

Lisa's Picks

Selection Notes:

The first thing that struck me about this play was the spare and painful beauty of the language. Of course, seasons are not programmed based on beauty and pathos alone, and the plays central theme of sexual assault may make the work sound intimidating or inappropriate for a post-secondary institution. So here are the three reasons I think your school should produce this play. 1. Shields deals with the sensitive subject matter of sexual violence in a tactful and artful way that manages to honor survivors and depict the horrors of violence without sensationalizing it. The images Shields chooses may be devastating and beautiful, but here aestheticizing does not trip into romanticizing. 2.  The chorus - inspired by real women from a vast range of backgrounds, survivors of a vast range of political conflicts – does not simply invite diverse casting, it thrives on it. Here a diverse cast is necessary to speak to the pervasiveness of the issues the play explores. 3. By using a Classical Greek story and some of the conventions of Greek theatre to tell a contemporary, or rather a timeless story, If We Were Birds engages in the thoughtful work of connecting seemingly distant stories with the present moment. It is the kind of work, the kind of connective thinking I often try to foster in the classroom. Shields shows us why these stories are still relevant, and how we might continue to engage with them. - Lisa