Saturday, August 17, 2013

One year...

Since the intense rehearsal experience of yermedea RAW started almost a year ago, here is an interview with director Kym Moore, puppet designer and director Alejandra Prieto, dramaturg Katrin Dettmer, and actors Alejandra Rivera Flaviá and Emma Thorne conducted and published by Bluestockings magazine back in December 2012.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Final Performance

Just before the final performance of yermedea RAW at La MaMa E.T.C.

The Yermedea RAW cast and crew returned to New York City this passed weekend to not only take part in the Soulographie marathon on Saturday but to also perform Erik Ehn's play for the last time. It has been a momentous time, from beginning to plan the project in 2010, but especially during the months of rehearsals and performances at Brown University but also on our little yet extraordinary tour. Bringing our show to a variety of people and engaging with them afterwards has been a most profound and continuous experience. Thus, all of our team felt both elated at the thought that a such an intense project would come to an end at La MaMa E.T.C. but also sad to say goodbye to a wonderful group of people and a significant experience.
After making our way to New York late Friday afternoon and evening, we were set to perform in the first installment of the marathon after Everyman Jack of You and Diamond Dick and before Maria Kizito on Saturday afternoon. We were very happy to learn that our performance was sold out after the very enthusiastic reception of our performance the weekend before and the excellent review in the New York Times. Indeed, our excellent ensemble performed in front of a full house, composed of an attentive and vocal audience, who eventually applauded strongly, in part in standing ovations.
On Sunday, before making our way back to Providence, we loaded out of the space at La MaMa and bid farewell to the moving box, an integral part of our set design, which we left behind.

Although the performance project of yermedea RAW has been finished, please check back with us often as we will continue to bring you more insights and highlights from the performances. We will also continue to use this blog to bring you news from Latin America and about issues we feel are pertinent to the legacy of yermedea RAW.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

yermedea RAW in New York City

This passed weekend, we have finally reached the culmination of so many months of hard and dedicated work by many people - actors, designers, the production and creative team - in New York City, kicking off the Soulographie festival at La MaMa E.T.C. Our team traveled to New York on Friday night, loaded in and rehearsed on Saturday, and premiered Yermedea RAW during the opening installment of three performance, with Everyman Jack of You and Diamond Dick, on Sunday night. Please find below a text by Brian Cross, who is one of the puppeteers and the voice of The Driver, sharing his experience of the first weekend in New York.

"For perhaps the first time throughout Yermedea's tour, a child of no more than six years sat among the audience on the November 11 performance at La Mama E.T.C. on E. 4th Street. I make her presence known to you because she made her front-row presence known to us: when two baby puppets bopped one another on the head, she giggled loudly as though she were watching Punch and Judy. Note, the complexity of the subject matter was not lost on her. Sure enough she held onto her mom during the scary bits, wading through the shades of the River Styx. Yet she seemed to remind the actors -- or me, at least -- of the levity of the piece, easily lost in the dense language of systematic death. Within the apocalyptic dreamscape of Yermedea hide infinite Easter Eggs at which one has no choice but to smile: singing and stitching, your child in your arms for a moment, a guardian angel that leads you into Hell and back again, the sound of bells, company. And really, for all the tragedy in the plays of Soulographie, it is to protect these moments of small joy that we pass on the tale of genocide. Tiny nuggets get us through our days. 

And so, as Yermedea nears its close, I am thankful for the nuggets that got the team through its first weekend in New York. That our stress manifested itself in group love fests, that our production team worked as a well-oiled machine to keep the cast safe and happy in the city, that Ria (Soulographie Global Stage Manager) and Eric (Soulographie Global Producer) gave us their complete focus and support, that the cast could set the stage in seconds flat, that no one missed their bus to New York, that no one missed their bus back to Providence, that the sold-out crowd engaged with difficult subject matter, and that some parents take their six-year-olds to see experimental theater."
submitted by Brian Cross

We are thrilled to report that the New York Times found our production "energizing and frightening" and full of "most haunting images". We are also thrilled that our very final performance in New York, this coming Saturday, 17 November 2012, is already sold out - although you can try to get tickets at the box office before the show. The entire team is thrilled to return to New York once more and step into the dreamscape of Yermedea RAW one last time.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Yet another talk back with Erik Ehn

As we are less than a week away from the Soulographie: Our Genocides festival at La MaMa E.T.C. in New York City, we are reflecting on our journey once more and what we have learned, including from the very insightful talk back that followed our last show at Boston's Factory Theatre on Sunday, 28 October 2012.
Noe Montez, Professor for Latin American Performance at Tufts University, was joined by playwright Erik Ehn and director Kym Moore to talk about Yermedea RAW within the context of Soulographie. Erik started off by explaining that the idea for Soulographie was born out of the question of how to persevere though overwhelming crisis and damage. Noe noticed that through all regimes and oppression, women have been made into bystanders or the oppressed on a variety of levels as children have been stolen out of their wombs and they themselves have been subjected to often grotesque forms of sexual torture, thus being lost in an atmosphere of chaos and senselessness that also often came through in the play and the performance. Erik responded that the mission of genocide is to attack motherhood and to destroy knowing itself. He said that it was in fact his trip to El Salvador in the 1990s that served as the beginning of Soulographie as evolving around the issue of knowing. He related a story in which the army in El Salvador had killed almost an entire village and had buried the bodies in the center of the town, claiming the mass murder had never happened while making the fact that it had happened the center of the continuing life there. Thus, genocide is concerned with a reorganization of knowing into power structures. Noe added that while the official end of violence in El Salvador is dated in 1991, the violence does continue in regard of the organization of forgetting, bearing similarities to the Argentine Dirty War, as many of the country's Disappeared are only now reunited with their families. Kym emphasized that these instances also tie in to the 500-year-old history of genocide in the entire continent of Latin America, which was the inspiration to not only work through the Western mythological figures of Yerma and Medea but to also include indigenous mythology like the figure of Pachamama in order to establish this greater framework.
Noe then focused on the story and presentation as being visceral experiences with visual and aural moments that were like "a punch to the gut". He felt that the play was structured from image to image to which Erik responded that the play is backing away from you and leaves you in confusion to let you yourself figure things out: "Confusion is my happy place." Kym disagreed and stressed that she is in love with how images communicate, while she also stressed the importance of music and sound as well as the physical choreography to create these moments of the images. Kym then paid respect to Ellen Stewart, founder and director of La MaMa E.T.C., and how she influenced Kym's understanding of theatre as communication, which transcends languages and cultures. Erik's play was in this sense a challenge to Kym since it is all images to begin with, which let her revisit some of her questions about how we communicate and how we can know something, all in all trying to make a happy marriage between confusion and knowing.
Closing, Noe asked about the collaboration between Erik and Kym. Erik expressed that it takes a lot of trust to give the play away but also that this is the nature of the play cycle, which goes beyond something personal although all his writing is very personal experiences and his biography: but he loves to give away something of meaning to himself. As the playwright absents himself, the script is also meant to fall away as the production is the actual shape of the piece. And eventually, the production will have to fall away as well as the audience has to take over the piece and fill it in. Kym stressed that from the beginning the piece has been bigger than everybody involved, gesturing beyond the page and beyond directing.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

yermedea RAW in Boston

This past weekend, the production of yermedea RAW embarked on the second part of its tour to perform two sold-out shows in Boston's Factory Theatre with the help of the phenomenal Sleeping Weazel artists' collective.
For both nights, we shared the stage with Vacant Lot Theatre Company's production of Equiprobablism, another play by Erik Ehn of his series entitled A Child's Drawing Of A Monster, directed by Kathleen Amshoff. As we realized that the venue of the Factory Theatre is even smaller than at 95 Empire Black Box, cast and crew once more set out to make it work and adapt our production to the new space. Just as at 95 Empire, the confines eventually proved to be a blessing as they enabled us to discover the work anew and intensify some moments even more, which all in all resulted in two very powerful performances.

The premiere was followed by a talk back with the directors, Kym Moore and Kathleen Amshoff, and artist Robbie McCauley. Robbie started off the conversation by praising the strong images of the production that brought her to reconsider the question of whether genocide is a natural and normal activity for humanity and how it could have been going on for centuries. She emphasized that it was theatre work like this that lets us stop in our tracks to consider these issues in the first place, all coming down to the fundamental question: Who are we? Kathleen stressed that Erik's writing is always interested in asking questions that cannot be easily answered. His writing may seem very oblique as it in fact is always coming from the side. A member of the audience related that although the images were stark and overwhelming, she did feel hopeful towards the end. Kym agreed that in spite of all the carnage, there is also life and survival and hope. It is above all in working with young companies that she is reminded of this hopefulness and the fact that humanity can do better than engaging in genocide. This becomes also very palpable with the figure of Pachamama in the show, which was early on incorporated by Kym and Alejandra Prieto. Not only is Pachamama the revitalizing force but she also stands in for the survival of women, who are not just victims but survivors, who are constantly coming back. Robbie connected this to Obatala, the dying and rising god of the Yoruba religion, that embodies faith in renewal and spiritual hope that is part of the feminine in everyone, which she also saw as the basis for the figure of the Driver, which Kym confirmed. The feminine, which resides in both men and women, is in this way an undervalued energy that is not supported by society, especially when this nurturing quality becomes apparent in men, who are too easily perceived as the sole perpetrators. Kym expressed that rather than an inherent duality, the opposition between the masculine and the feminine is a concept that is put onto us.

As another member of the audience asked about the scrolls that were used in the production, Kym remarked that although her family originally comes from Central America, she had little knowledge of the continent's history and especially the history of genocide there before starting this project. The scrolls and the Mayan script they display call into presence the vast number of stories that have been repressed or are not readily available in the West's version of history. Sleeping Weazel's Charlotte Meehan made a case for theatre that brings the stories of people to light, who are not seen - for to tell a story and thus to keep a people is also a joyful activity, even if the images may at first appear brutal and overwhelming.
Another audience member remarked that she often felt foreign to the experience of the performance and that she observed a historical dislocation. While at times she felt sympathy, at other points she felt extremely other and foreign. Kym mentioned that we may sometimes get over-concerned with identifying everything, which can get into way of actually seeing what is going on. Kathleen added that it is also Erik's poetic language that keeps you falling into and out of the story, which in fact asks a lot from the audience in terms of different forms of attention. Robbie then stressed that she often feels that audiences are underestimated and that theatre and art in general should put more trust in its audience to come to the work in their own time, whether it is during the performance, after the performance, a week later, or in their dreams.

Check back later this week for a report on the talk back with Kym and Erik in Boston!!!

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Power of Art

Yermedea Raw finished its successful and powerful residency at 95 Empire yesterday after 5 extraordinary performances, which were in part followed by a talk back focusing on different issues. After Saturday's matinee, director Kym Moore was joined by Dorothy Abram (JWU), Omar Bah (a refugee from The Gambia), and Cristina Cabrera (English for Action) for a bilingual talk back session in English and Spanish (with Cristina translating) on refugee experience and the potential of art.
First, Dorothy and Kym tracked the different entry points for connecting with the production, whether it is through mythology or other stories, memories or experience. An audience member commented that the music used in the production was blending mythologies and realities for her and thus worked like a bridge into this world, no matter where you were coming from.
Another audience member then asked whether it was not immoral "to create art on the ashes of the victims, prettifying it to profit from it"? Omar stated that money is always made, whether it is in the theater or during the atrocities of genocide. For him, theater and art are first and foremost part of the healing process for the victims. Since the experiences of war and genocide will stay with you no matter what, the true profit lies in sharing these stories. Dorothy emphasized that each situation needs to be evaluated individually but that is of utmost importance to tell these stories as stories of survival. Kym added that we do not know what genocide is in the first place and the coming to terms with that fact is part of an educational process for everyone involved. To communicate this struggle within a community in a public space like the theater is "just the beginning of consciousness", especially considering that North American audiences are very well educated regarding historical events like the Holocaust but are largely unaware of the ongoing and current genocides carried out throughout the world.
At this point, the conversation centered around the function of art in the so-called First World and in other parts of the world. Kym stated that art in the US is understood as means either for profit or for leisure, whereas elsewhere art is understood to be a conscious way of living within a community, to understand what it means to be a human being. Kym emphasized that we need to change our perspective on what art can and must do, as art is able to change our image of the world and to transform absolutely anything. Since everybody is able to engage in art, art is the most powerful medium to create new images and tell stories, that will survive and help us to track humanity. Omar added that art helps us to find and understand intrinsic truths about our lives that we have yet no idea about. He continued to tell about his traumatic experiences in Africa, being persecuted, imprisoned, and tortured - but that art enabled him to connect again with his life and with others.
Closing the inspiring conversation this afternoon, an audience member stated that she appreciated the opportunity to witness and experience the emotional fallout of these extreme situations through participating in someone else's point of view, even if it's just for the limited time of this performance, which pulled her in as a witness and participant.

Although we are now taking a short break from the tour, check back in often as the blog will continue to keep you up to date on ongoing dramaturgical efforts and of course on the progress of the tour. Tickets for our performances in Boston and New York City are now on sale: we hope to see you there soon!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Another Talk Back with Erik Ehn

During our run at 95 Empire, we are also hosting a variety of talk back events. After yesterday's performance, playwright Erik Ehn was joined by director Kym Moore and director of the Soulographie play Maria Kizito Emily Mendelsohn to discuss the cycle of Soulographie plays and how Yermedea RAW is situated within it.
Erik started the conversation of by explaining his inspiration to write Soulographie as to negotiate the issue of genocide as a global problem, as a policy, and a way of running the world within 17 plays to possibly encompass what cannot be encompassed. Erik sees his plays as to provoke a state of readiness while committing to "productive waiting", a leaning towards meaning. One of his objectives in writing was to figure out how to rescue a sense of joyfulness in the face of crime and violence. Thus, Erik said, Soulographie does not attempt to explain genocide away but to put it into the context of joy, which for him is inherently the space of theatre. 
An audience member commented on the palpable mythological dimensions of the piece and wondered how the specificity of historical moments, for example in El Salvador, were dealt with. Director Kym Moore then talked about the research process for the play and how the history of El Salvador actually revealed the history of the entire continent, which the production company then actually compelled to widen the scope of the imagery without losing specific pointers to the culture of El Salvador. In this sense, the production sought to establish a balance between historical specificity and greater trends towards a mythological understanding of these events. Erik added that the plays are freed from the burden of supplying information, which is negotiated as part of the production's education and outreach efforts.
Various audience members commented on the power of the production of Yermedea RAW, specifically the use of the puppets and the variety of beautiful and haunting images such as the cornstalks and the shoes. Kym then talked about the true collaborative effort that went both into the design process and the rehearsal process with the actors to generate these moments.
Another comment by audience members centered around the fact that the production is very aware of the audience members being outsiders to the experience of genocide, that even witnessing is negotiated as a complex issue, whereas the shoes served as the vessels through which the souls of the departed traveled, taking hold of the actors who then relate their stories, which was described as very affecting.
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