Friday, August 24, 2012

Child Soldiers

Erik Ehn explains his experience working with child soldiers on multiple trips to Rwanda and Uganda in this new interview.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Seven in Bed

2001, by Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010). Also by her, The Reticent Child (2003):

Federico García Lorca: Yerma

Set in rural Spain, Yerma, written by Federico García Lorca in 1934, tells the story of a young wife, who yearns to have children but cannot have them. She sings to her unborn son and implores her husband Juan to give her a child but the years pass and Yerma grows more and more desperate in her desire. From the very beginning, Yerma is a figure that embodies life itself: she comes from a big family and is in tune with nature, often going out to feel the earth. On the other hand, Yerma becomes frustrated with the rules of a society that manages knowledge to the disadvantage of the individual:

All doors are closed to girls like me, who grow up in the country. Everything is half said, hushed up, because they say we're not supposed to know about such things. And you, too - you, too, keep silent and walk off with the air of a doctor - knowing everything, but denying it to someone who is dying of thirst.

Yerma is subtitled "a tragic poem", and indeed Lorca's language is dense with images, metaphors, and symbols woven together in a specific rhythm and working together in a poetic system of different perspectives to construe a complex, at times difficult, and open whole. A challenging example is Yerma's song, in which she invokes natural forces to which she feels she belongs but which also seem to work against her. Where at times Yerma is very specific about her wishes for a child, her language is also embedded in poetic meanderings including nature imagery which add physical force to her expression but also emphasize her co-existence with nature:

(as if in a dream)
Oh, what a pasture of pain!
Oh, the gate barred against beauty!
I crave to carry a child, but the breeze
Offers dahlias made of the dreaming moon.
Deep in my flesh I have two warm springs,
Throbbing fountainheads of milk -
Two pulsing hoofbeats of a horse,
Which agitate the branches of my anguish.
O blind breasts under my clothing!
O doves without eyes, doves without whiteness!
The stinging pain of imprisoned blood
Nails hornets to the nape of my neck!
But surely you'll come, my love, my son!
As the sea gives salt, and the earth bears grain,
Our womb will swell with a tender child,
Like a cloud which brings the sweet, fresh rain.

Lorca's use of music intensifies the poetic quality of his work, most notably in the scene with washerwomen who appear like a Greek chorus, discussing Yerma's life and her fate and becoming more and more lyrical until they enter into song, not only anchoring Yerma in Western theatre tradition but also establishing the heroine as a symbolic figure. In the last scenes of the play, Yerma's desire for a child has become a metaphysical quest, a longing for balance through something new, a child, for which the patriarchy (Juan) has no desire. Yerma's struggle is also a struggle against the status quo, which she changes by killing her husband, even if that means killing off her future children:

Barren. Barren, but sure. Now I know it for certain. And alone.
I will sleep without suddenly waking up to see if my blood is proclaiming new blood. With my body dry forever. What do you want to know? Don't come near me, for I have killed my son! I myself have killed my son!

Being barren, once a fate put on to Yerma by her husband, now is the fate she chooses and enables herself, thereby reaching an agency that had been denied to her before, despite all her attempts to change her situation.

Some things don't change! There are things locked up behind walls that can never change, because nobody hears them!

Yerma, eventually, makes herself heard.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Euripides: Medea

The Medea by Euripides, written 431 BC, is possibly the first version of the myth that envisions Medea as the actual agent, the murderess of her two sons, as Richard Rutherford explains. Euripides was apparently very interested in Medea's psychology and her coming to her extreme decision. From very early on, Medea is shown as an utmost emotional woman but also as shrewd thinker, who is able to understand her position not only as a betrayed lover and wife but also as a female foreigner in a patriarchal society, as shows her speech to the chorus of Corinthian women:

"Of all creatures that have life and reason we women are the most miserable of specimens! In the first place, at great expense we must buy a husband, taking a master to play the tyrant with our bodies (this is an injustice that crowns the other one). [...] When a man becomes dissatisfied with married life, he goes outdoors and finds relief for his frustrations. But we are bound to love one partner and look no further. They say we live sheltered lives in the home, free from danger, while they wield their spears in battle - what fools they are! I would rather face the enemy three times over than bear a child once."

Medea pleads her case so well that the women are actually supporting her by promising her silence (here, a female virtue and duty is turned into a weapon) and are looking forward to Medea's revenge, which they see as a re-alignment of power in nature:

"Uphill flow the waters of sacred rivers; nature and all things are overturned. Men make deceitful plans and the pledges they swear in the name of the gods no longer stand firm. As for the manner of our lives, the stories will change it from a foul to a fair name; recompense is coming for the female sex. No more shall we women endure the burden of ill-repute. [...] The rolling ages have much to tell of our side, much, as well, of men's."

The women are eventually taken aback when Medea reveals to them the extent of her revenge plan but they remain truthful to their promise and do not tell on Medea's scheme. Rather, as is the case with the Greek chorus, they witness the events until the end. In the meantime, Medea plots murders and her escape, changing her tone according to her interlocutors, which makes an acutely dynamic, strong, and complex character.

"It makes me groan to think what deed I must do next. For I shall kill my own children; no one shall take them from me. I will wreak havoc on all Jason's house and then quit this land, to escape the charge of murdering my beloved children, after daring to do a deed that is abominable indeed. [...] Let no one think me a weak and feeble woman, or one to let things pass, but rather one of the other sort, a generous friend but an enemy to be feared."

Although Medea is often seen as a woman driven by revenge, it is not the sole motivation for her actions, as the following monologue shows. Medea is aware of the fate her children will likely meet as sons of the murderess of Jason's wife. She decides to kill her children not only to cause Jason pain but to maintain her right as a mother and eventually gain an alternative quality of agency since Creon and Jason wanted to submit her to their will. Nevertheless, Medea dreads her actions as much as she needs to carry them out:

"I will kill the children and then quit this land. I will not delay and so deliver them to other hands to spill their blood more eagerly. They must be killed; there is no other way. And since they must, I will take their life, I who gave them life. Come, my heart, put on your armour! We must not hesitate to do this deed, this terrible yet necessary deed! Come, wretched hand of mine, grip the sword, grip it! On to the starting line! A painful race awaits you now! No time now for cowardice or thinking of your children, how much you love them, how you brought them into this world. No, for one day, one fleeting day, forget your children; there will be the rest of your life for weeping. For though you will put them to the sword, you loved them well. Oh, I am a woman born to sorrow!"

Medea, having killed her children and confronting Jason one last time, is not remorseful but having reached god-like agency she is removed from the world of Corinth and exists now in an alternative reality.

The last two images are from a German production of the play, directed by Barbara Frey for the Deutsches Theater Berlin in 2006, starring the extraordinary Nina Hoss. This raw interpretation of the play envisions Medea as a prisoner of her circumstances, a claustrophobic housewife's cube, from which she'll eventually escape.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Los Desaparecidos

Yesterday, international news reported on Pablo Javier Gaona Miranda (34), who has been returned to his biological family after 34 years. He is one of  los desaparecidos, the disappeared, one of the up to 30,000 people who were "disappeared" during Argentina's Dirty War from 1976 to 1983. It is estimated that about 500 of these victims were still babies, who were stolen from their detained mothers right after birth. Miranda is only the 106th baby who was recovered as part of the initiative led by the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo to locate children kidnapped during the repression.  Just last month, two former military leaders of Argentina, Jorge Videla and Reynaldo Bignone, were found guilty of overseeing the systematic theft of babies from political prisoners. You can read and see Miranda's story here. An interview with another "stolen baby", Victoria Montenegro, can be watched here.

Below, watch the moving interview with Marianela Galli, an activist from the human rights organization H.I.J.O.S., an organizations of the children of people who were "disappeared" in Argentina and in Guatemala. On 12 June 1977, Marianela and her family were abducted by the military in Buenos Aires. Marianela was kidnapped along with her father, the marine officer Mario Guillermo Galli, her mother Patricia Teresa Flynn, and her grandmother Felisa Wagner. Marianela was the sole family member to survive the experience.

In a report from 2009, CNN introduces the work of the EAAF, the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team (Equipo Argentino de Antropología Forense), a non-governmental, non-profit, scientific organization that applies forensic sciences - mainly forensic anthropology and archaeology - to the investigation of human rights violations in Argentina and worldwide. It was established in 1984 to investigate the cases of the disappeared people in Argentina and is now operating in Latin America, Africa, Asia, and Europe on five integrated programs.

August 30 is the International Day of the Disappeared.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Reclaiming Historical Memory

Brown's own Maia Chao, a senior concentrator in Cultural Anthropology, is currently in Guatemala through funding of the Brown International Scholars Program, where she is performing ethnographic research on community radio for her thesis:
"My project examines the impact of community radio as a means of revitalizing Mayan spirituality, language, and culture, while simultaneously promoting development, education, and equality. Through participant observation and interviews, I will examine how listeners and programmers integrate discourses of indigenous rights activism and cultural revitalization into current notions of Mayan identity."
Maia posts regularly about her activities and most recently about a community radio workshop, during which participants discussed the knowledge and stories about the recent history of Guatemala in relation to indigenous identity and the armed conflict, specifically the potential of community radio to help revitalize cultural pride, as one participant expressed: 
"Our customs, dress, and languages are disappearing. Community radio is a fundamental tool in fighting the causes of the armed conflict." 
Find Maia's great reports here.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

One breath at a time

First, a TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design = a nonprofit devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading) talk by Basil Jones and Adrian Kohler of Handspring Puppet Company, the geniuses behind the amazing puppets of War Horse. They talk about the importance of breath for their puppets in performance as it is the essence of life on the stage, or as Adrian Kohler phrases it:

An actor struggles to die onstage, but a puppet has to struggle to live. And in a way that’s a metaphor for life.

They describe their work as "emotional engineering" as they try to provoke an emotional response in the audience by the use of dead objects, and show the great evolution of Joey, the War Horse, who then walks and breathes on stage. It is then truly amazing how the pragmatic production point of view coexists with the theatrical reality of a living horse that needs to be catered to like any other living creature. 

Second, another TED talk by actor Thandie Newton an embracing otherness by coming to terms with one's self and the otherness within in regard to our constructed identities. Thandie then asks whether the aspired authenticity and veracity of the self is attainable at all in a world of projections and whether it would not be more desirable to suspend the self and connect to an essence, i.e. to others and their emotions, for which - again - breath is the key ingredient.

submitted by Kym

Friday, August 3, 2012

Take Heart.... a message from Erik Ehn

Dear Team: 

Three months out. Take heart. We're gathering like a thunderhead; there will be lightning and amazement. 

Some sogginess too I'm sure, but - flowers overall... 

News will come breaking in waves; we're very close to a schedule; the dates of course are committed. 

I haven't heard anyone say it will be impossible for them to make it; some projects are needing to make cunning adjustments - but these tactics are bearing fruit. We hold to the notion that the work must be perfect... To this end: 

If life moves for you like it does for me, then likely you find yourself already projecting into the future... At a conference this summer, a speaker pointed to a language where the geography of past and future are reversed (from English). Rather than saying "the future lies ahead" or "the past is behind us," the figures run "the past is always before me" and "leave the future behind you" - in the sense that we always build, make, operate on a field immediately before us that's composed of our history - our experience, our expertise, our wounds, our treasure... Every time I open my eyes on the world I'm holding the view in place by means of the past - that's a tree, that's sunlight, that's a responsibility, that's a distraction... on the basis of learning. I reach to what I may do through the field of the past. 

With that in mind, as we plow into the fall and grow into the low-grade blindness and anxiety that passes for functional accountability in daily life, let's hang on to the past we've built so carefully, as a collective, over these years. I'm asking you to keep Soulographie right in front of you. Other things will call for your attention - many things - countless... Our performances will equal who we are, in the evolution of our craft, in the company of trusted collaborators, in a live moment of expression. We're the right people; fully present to each other, we're perfect. 

Keep me, Meredith and Soulproducers up on where you're at and what you need. Given the resources of time and space, how can we show forth your identity as a maker. Where are you at? 

Gather energy. We go deep into the view. After so long a road, we're about to find shelter. I can't wait to be with you in the new ways, so nearly available. 

Much peace, 


Set Design

As we are approaching design week, our set designer Oona Curley has forwarded us some images of her research, which includes images of nature overgrowing man-made objects, related textures, and shelters - but also first images of the model for the set, which has to accommodate our production being on the road. 



submitted by Oona Curley

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Costume Research

Our costume designer, Sara Ossana, has forwarded us her research regarding the costumes for our production. She is looking to anchor the piece with a unit costume modeled after the concept of the Campesino(a) - this represents the peasant / farmer / working class in Central and South America. There are still large populations of Campesinos across Latin America and it is a fairly universal identity throughout those regions. You will find people who identify as Campesinos or Campesinas from Mexico to Peru and Colombia; they tend to come from the "mountains" or more rural regions of these countries but they are really everywhere. As these are the peasants or working class, many of these people are closer descendants of the indigenous cultures throughout Latin America. They also tend to have darker complexions and fall towards the "Indian" end of the mestizo spectrum. There is racism in Latin America, typically the darker the skin (more Indian) the more marginalized the person. This is still very strong even today.

The overall look of the Campesino has not changed much for the past 100 years. They are characterized by a cotton or a cotton blend shirt and pants, although jeans have become affordable enough that they sometimes replace the typical cotton pant. There is also a signature hat, although the silhouette varies depending on the country. In Mexico, El Salvador etc., the hat is more of a traditional "cowboy" hat; as you move further south it is a variation on a fedora with a very small brim. The hats are worn by both men and women.

They also wear either work boots or more traditionally a huarache or sandal, typically made using old tires for the sole and leather strapping tied around the ankle. This footwear was made famous by the Tarahumara who run 200 mile races in handmade huaraches.

Other implements that a Campesino would carry are a bule, which is a dried gourd used as a canteen with a leather strap tied around the neck. Contemporary Campesinos would also always have a machete on hand. 

All of these images range from the 1980's to now, all over South and Central America also. Sara thinks about using the Campesino as a unit or base costume with possibly a mixture of hat styles for the actors, representing the different regions. The actors will all have a cotton shirt and pants, ideally in a light tan color with huarache sandals or some type of sandal; possibly the women could apply their skirt as an apron when playing Yerma or Medea. We would introduce the elements of the "conquest" - "soldier" or occupier - and "original" Aztec or Mayan Warriors and other strong indigenous and historical symbols and iconography through the use of silhouettes and signature pieces or strong singular gesture pieces. 

For example, for the Spanish Conquistador, we could construct a simple silhouette piece that gestures towards the shape of the conquistador helmet and is identifiable but not a "real" helmet; or an Incan or Aztec head dress but out of a simple material, not realistic yet suggestive, relying primarily on silhouette; or simply boots to represent the modern "soldier". 

These pieces can either be worn by an actor or held in place by one actor for another, like a prop-costume or a full scale human puppet costume piece, relieving the need for individual fit and allowing for use by multiple people without the need for any quick changes. The nurse would be in a typical, generic nurse uniform and the driver could be in a slight variation of the Campesino silhouette to distinguish him. 

submitted by Sara Ossana

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