For fifteen years, noted playwright Erik Ehn has been visiting the locations of genocides — collecting testimony, sharing evidence with students, and collaborating with local residents to explore how the performing arts can aid recovery.
Encountering the extraordinary and horrific accumulation of testimony that has emerged from late 20th century genocides, Erik felt an obligation as an artist to tell some of these stories and a compelling need to examine, through the lens of drama, how a society makes its way to atrocity. How, he wondered, can we tell the story of such a collective abdication of empathy without participating in it ourselves? How can we bear witness appropriately and how can this witnessing help heal? “The 20th Century was the age of genocide,” says Ehn. “If the 21st Century will be the age of ecology (as it must be – the age of interdependence, of knitting/re-knitting together), then there must be due commemoration, a spiritual frame for loss. Otherwise the loss will be denied, or repressed, and will poison our wells.”
Ehn has long been an experimenter not just with aesthetic form but with means of collaborative art making. Soulographie is a joint project with 14 different directors, all long-time Ehn collaborators. Each director will stage one or more of the cycle plays in their home city, then converge for a festival in New York in November 2012 at which the plays will be presented individually and in one 24-hour marathon.
The Music of Poetry
Featuring Ehn’s signature blend of poetry, image, vision and humor, the plays of the Soulographie cycle take us from the Tulsa Race Riots to El Salvador, from Bosnia to Rwanda and the child armies of East Africa. In each case, the plays weave together international incidents with their domestic implications and global atrocity with the parallel disaster of the erosion of the human heart. Ghost voices on the radio embody the dead of one Latin American village, escaping survivors in Africa call America on a lost cell phone, an autistic child is read Rwandan testimony as bedtime story by a genocide scholar father, and an oil refinery in a future Texas becomes the site of perpetual war fought by children. Technology is haunted, landscape is sacred, and language is the way we are both broken and healed in this extraordinary effort by one of our most visionary playwrights.