to our mutual benefit

Some practical matters.

 

We’re churning through some grants, because, as we came to a couple of posts ago, money is also real.

 

Closer to home (the idea of home; springing up out of who we are), is the idea of a benefit. This will hopefully be at La MaMa, hopefully in March 2012. When I picture it in my mind, it’s sort of like parties in the Frankie and Annette movies – sanely out of control, where Eric Von Zipper reconciles with the Big Kahuna; poetry (bongos!), music (ukes!) and dancing mingle… Not literally thinking of a beach theme – but, that sense of ease.

 

Ideas you have concerning how to throw a good benefit? Who to meet? Begin dreaming forward to blessed relief from workaday.

 

Below, an updated Soulographie overview; we have some new teammates.

 

Hang ten,

 

E

 

SOULOGRAPHIE

 

Soulographie: A series of 17 plays written by Erik Ehn, documenting a spiritual history of the United States from the point of view of its genocides. It unfolds through performances, discussions, workshop retreats and online media documentation.

Our points of focus are East Africa (Rwanda/Uganda), Central America (Guatemala/El Salvador), and Tulsa (the Race Riot of ’21, as emblem of genocidal ideology exercised domestically). The plays are developed through 2010-11 by 16 directors across 10 cities (the 17th play will be directed collaboratively). In November 2012, local productions converge at La MaMa for a two-week immersive encounter in New York City.

 

 

Project Summary

Soulographie: A series of 17 plays written by Erik Ehn, documenting a spiritual history of the United States from the point of view of its genocides.

The points of focus are East Africa (Rwanda/Uganda), Central America (Guatemala/El Salvador), and Tulsa (the Race Riot of ’21, as emblem of genocidal ideology exercised domestically). The plays are developed through 2010-11 by independent companies/artists: 16 directors, 10 cities (the 17th play will be directed collaboratively). In Fall 2012, local productions converge at La MaMa (whose partnership is committed) for a two-week immersive encounter in NYC, which will include public performances, discussions, shared meals, story circles, and testimony.

 

Project Description

17 productions developed by geographically and aesthetically diverse teams working in close consultation over time come together in New York in November 2012 to take part in an organic set of events (performances, panels, talk-backs, teach-ins) concerning the spiritual and historical nature of modern genocide, and in particular its exercise as U.S. policy in the 20th century.

The first play came in 1991: Una Carroña is about the murder of a six Jesuits, their housekeeper and their housekeeper’s daughter in El Salvador; it interrogates the crime in terms of broader US military and economic policy (e.g., aid in the form of torture training and provision of ordnance to Salvadoran governmental forces), and in a theological light. Thistle followed soon after, and its focus is a near total massacre at El Mozote, also in El Salvador, based on the testimony of the sole survivor (the bullets and the training provided by the US). On a trip to visit family in Tulsa in ’94, my attention was seized by a small article in the local paper noting the discovery of a mass grave in the corner of Oaklawn Cemetery, dating back to what was called the Race Riot of 1921 (actually, a well managed, state supported campaign to fracture beyond recovery the prospering African American community), in which up to 300 citizens, the vast majority being African Americans, were killed. Machine guns, systematic arson and aerial bombardment were used by rapidly deputized white mobs. Memory of the riot, locally and nationally, has been systematically repressed (no arrests of those who burnt down the black neighborhoods, no apologies for state support, no reparations; permission was denied to exhume the mass grave). Heavenly Shades was written in response. Every Man Jack of You came out immediately afterwards, drawing specific parallels between the riot and ethnic cleansing. Later that year, the Rwandan genocide took place, and what had seemed to be anomalous, monstrous flares, now seemed the product of global policy.

By ‘95, I began to conceive of the plays as living together in series, with recurring characters and themes. In attempting to find speech for the unspeakable, I am drawn to a global approach – surrounding the subject from as many sides as I can. Research has taken me to East Africa, Central America, and Tulsa (and Serbia, and Bosnia, and Korea, and Berlin, and Northern Ireland…) for sustained encounters and lasting dialogues.

 

I’ve come to a place where the scripts I’ve generated complete an architecture worked out over nearly two decades; the plays need to occur together, in live and intensive dialogue, for the project to achieve itself. To this end, in collaboration with La MaMa, local productions converge for a two-week immersive encounter in NYC, an experience that includes public performances, discussions, shared meals, story circles, and testimony. Our preparation makes use of regular meetings, live and virtual, with work-and-thinking-in-progress distributed, archived and made publicly available on our website (https://sites.google.com/a/soulographie.org/home/).

We load in to La MaMa Nov 5, and perform Nov 8-11, 15-18.

The method of production models the therapeutic response to trauma – we are a family of faithful collaborators, involving widening circles of partners (including dramaturges, donors, scholars, activists, survivors), bringing audiences into an experience that invites contemplation, further study, and action.

Teams realize their productions prior to NY; it is part of the distributive strategy of Soulographie that we have a wide reality.

By advance to New York in deep awareness of each other’s practical requirements and aesthetic choices. We’re creating a website to facilitate collaboration and communication among the various shows, and open to the broader public.  Monthly meetings (each mixing live and virtual) allow participating artists and administrators share notes on choices. A pattern of larger, in-person retreats has been established, and a calendar of potential intersections is kept live (for example, several of our puppet projects are finding each other at a UConn conference in April).

Meredith Lynsey-Schade is our producer; in addition to the clarity she provides around resources, she is convening and documenting our gatherings around process. We have a Technical Director and a Lighting Supervisor (Erik Holden John Eckert respectively), who will facilitate the cooperation of the productions in space; we have full run of the La MaMa spaces, and will have opportunity to load in, tech and run prior to opening.

La MaMa is our partner.  They are providing space, equipment, front-of-house and basic marketing resources in exchange for 50% of box office cut.

We are budgeting for use of AIR/BnB housing situations; we are also aligning with churches and other organizations in NYC to find beds. Meredith and I have extensive experience with in-kind donations along these lines, and are confident in our prospects in this regard.

The devising and management of talk-backs, etc. will be supervised by myself, with support (curation, facilitation) provided by collaborators identified through Arts in the One World and Theatre Without Borders, two networking organizations I have been with since their founding.

The play that ends the series (Forgiveness) is directed collectively, with input from all teams, under the supervision of director Rebecca Novick (also directing Dogsbody, on child soldiers in E Africa). Rebecca will use, essentially, the resources of her own production (cast, designer) to realize the production of Forgiveness, but over the course of our process will devise strategies for including not only thinking, but material resources from across the project as well (elements of set, cast…).

Forgiveness as a play explores the complexity of the word, and wonders at its effective use/necessity in a process of reconciliation. It is a brief domestic story – a husband and wife mourn the loss of their young son through a car accident differently, even antagonistically. If we can’t forgive each other in the home, how will we forgive each other as circles expand?

 

Project Timeline

2009-2011 – Independent productions. Monthly meetings, periodic retreats, and ongoing web based dialogue, each open in different ways to the public (meetings and retreat by invitation, the site without restriction).

 

In November 2012, projects converge at La MaMa, where we continue to rehearse, enhance correlations, and then play in rep for two weeks, with marathon performances of all the plays on the Sundays. NY productions are accompanied by seminars, panels, story circles and workshops, illuminating historical context, networking art workers interested in peace-building, providing forums for survivors, and establishing a productive environment for learning and sharing.

 

Artist’s Statement

The mission is expansive but the action is precise. Soulographie is simple, ultimately, because it is everything. It is everything I know to do. My goal, my function down to the cellular level is to connect – connect ideas, people, to make circles of inclusion centered on that which is most vulnerable to exclusion, to historical annihilation. While the scale of Soulographie is large, the energies, and the specific links it will take to accomplish our goals have been rehearsed and engrained in a faithful, enduring society of workers for some time. Fall 2012 will bring us all to a place we have never quite been before, but – we are well on our way up the mountain. Our thinking is rigorous, our wills are keenly directed, our momentum into the broader community is assured, and our purpose finds favor with the invitations of the wounded.

 

Playwriting has always been an unsolvable problem for me; genocide is an irresolvable object. Sometimes it takes a broken shoe to fit a broken foot. Theater’s loose ends and available center are well matched to a subject that will not be fully located, or known, in a satisfying way. The 20th Century was the age of genocide. If the 21st Century will be the age of ecology (as it has to 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.

 

 

Plays, Directors

 

Every Man Jack of You, Forgiveness            Josh Chambers (NY/LA)

 

Diamond Dick                                                                        Raphael Parry (Dallas)

 

Yermedea                                                                        Kym Moore (Providence)

 

Heavenly Shades            Robbie McCauley (Boston)

 

Maria Kizito            JB Cyabaggu (Kampala)

 

Thistle            Tom Dugdale, w/Carrie Klewin

(San Diego)

 

Drunk Still Drinking                                                            Alison Russo (New York)

 

Una Carroña                                                                        Brian Mertes (Providence)

 

Shape                                                                                    Daniel Alexander Jones (NY)

 

Cordelia                                                                        Jubilith Moore (SF)

 

Double Aspect                                                                        Dan Hurlin (Bronxville)

 

Burnt Umber                                                                        Mia Rovegno (NY)

 

The Architecture of Great Cathedrals                        Laurie O’Brien (Rochester)

 

Star            Katie Shook (LA)

 

Hidebound            Alison Heimstead (Mpls)

 

Dogsbody            Rebecca Novick (SF)

 

Forgiveness         Josh Chambers (NY/LA)

 

Design/Technical Team:

 

Erik Holden – TD

Ken McKenzie – Scenic

John Eckert – Lights

Leah Piehl – Costumes

 

 

Summaries

 

Genocides in Tulsa, Central America, Rwanda/East Africa, Bosnia. After an introduction, motion through the perspectives of survivors, perpetrators and various witnesses; life in aftermath.

 

Every Man Jack of You                                     dir, Josh Chambers

An overture to the series. Jack a recurring character, abandons his first wife, leaving his Oklahoma home for a drunken spree in Vegas. He travels against the backdrop of the NATO bombings in Bosnia, conflated with the Tulsa race riot of 1921. His increasingly dissolute efforts at mindless release never succeed in drowning out the complexity of the political world (pushed into his consciousness by various avatars of Julia Caesar/Caesar’s Palace), or in rendering him innocence of his place in context with historical events. Clair, his wife, increasingly politicized, breaks free.

[6 pages]

 

Diamond Dick                                                            dir, Raphael Parry

The first in the Tulsa series. A timeline account of the riots of ’21, reporting long repressed, detailing the false arrest of Dick Rowland, an African American shoe-shiner accused of sexually accosting Sarah Paige in an elevator, and the subsequent riots. A vast tract of Tulsa, called Black Wall Street (a prosperous middle class neighborhood), was burned to the ground, and as many as 300 African Americans were killed. A touchstone of the story in the play: the burning of the Dreamland Theater. The play unfolds chronologically over the days of the riots; documentary accounts merge with dreamlike readings. [36 pages]

 

Yermedea                                                            dir, Kym Moore

The first in the Central American series. Relating to poverty in El Salvador currently, and over the course of colonial history; the entanglement of the US and other colonial forces. The play braids Medea and Yerma into one narrative – a domestic worker shares versions of a tale with a bus driver. Medea kills her children, Yerma can’t have them; they both consider the violence against children perpetrated by the government, who force poor women to have hysterectomies against their will. [10 pages]

 

Heavenly Shades of Night are Falling             dir, Robbie McCauley

Second Tulsa play. The riots from a survivor’s point of view – life in a traumatized imagination. L’ash is 14 at the time of the riots; she loses nine brothers and sisters, along with her parents. She escapes to Minnesota, and lives a long life… or thinks she does. She is pursued by the ghost of the man who killed her father; how violence continues to happen in the body and mind after the overt actions cease; how suffering is transmitted generationally. [46 pages]

 

Maria Kizito                                                            dir, JB Cyabaggu

First Rwanda play. In 1994, over 800,000 Tutsi were killed along with Hutu moderates over the course of 100 epically bloody days. Frequently described as a sudden and incomprehensible expression of ancient tribal rivalries, the genocide was in fact years in coming, was abetted by the “international community” and by every institutional engine in the country, and was not tribal – Hutu and Tutsi were only racialized by the colonial Dutch, and were historically fluid social and economic categories. The play looks at a particular, true case, from a perpetrator’s point of view. Two nuns are convicted of complicity in the deaths of 7,000 refugees who sought asylum at their convent. The spiritual biography of a genocidaire, the young nun Maria Kizito, as mediated by a young American nun who attends her trial. [52 pages]

 

Thistle, w/Star, Carrie Klewin                                    Fall, USC, San Diego

Thistle is the second Central American play. Based closely on the testimony of Rufina Amaya Marquez, the piece details the annihilation of the town of El Mozote, in El Salvador, in 1980, at the had of US trained and supported troops. Rufina, in hiding, witnessed the destruction of her family, and escaped – by miracle. She lived for many years after, believing she had been spared for the express purpose of witnessing to the crimes. The nakedness of the historical record is in balance with an interdisciplinary approach to story telling – featuring abundant music and dance. (For Star, see below.) [19 pages]

 

Drunk Still Drinking                                                            dir, Allison Narver

Second in the Rwanda series, dovetailing with Tulsa. Lelu decides to leave Oklahoma go to Europe to buy a par of shoes; a lark. She takes her friend Sola along for company, but soon falls in love with a romantic singer; Lelu leaves her friend to follow him on tour through Europe. But it turns out Mazout (the singer) is a political fugitive – he is wanted for singing songs instrumental in inciting genocide. She wanders in poverty, and gains new insight into the connectedness of the world (an epiphany shared with the American nun, Teresa, in Maria Kizito). She labors to regain her right mind (reconciling with Sola), risking as much as hopefulness in a time where sentiment can be a calamitous guide. [45 pages]

 

Una Carroña                                                                        dir, Brian Mertes

Third in the Central American series. A saint play, commemorating the assassination of Oscar Romero and other church figures in El Salvador, actions viewed as iconic of genocidal ideology. The meditative piece centers on an extended prayer to Saint Rose of Lima. [6 pages]

 

Shape/Cordelia                                                            dir, Daniel Alexander Jones

Third in the Tulsa series; also a fable on genocidal ideology at large. The life and travails of vaudevillian fairies (winged, anomalous), exploited for their historical songs and dances, used by the dominant culture, and abandoned at times of great need. Based loosely on the biographies of African American vaudevillians Billy and Cordelia MacClain, who at one point took part in a vast spectacle staged in Brooklyn at the beginning of the 20th Century. Black America put 500 black performers in a camp in Brooklyn, where they reenacted the joys of plantation life. [23 pages]

 

Double Aspect                                                                        Erik Ehn

Fourth Central America play; features Rory another character who will recur (an analogue of Jack’s).

  • Rory works for Corrections as an executioner
  • Rory is Married to Lynn; Lynn is a Prison Chef
  • Lynn and Rory have a daughter, Xela; heavy metal fan
  • Xela won’t eat Lynn’s food. She moves out of the house and works in a Subway Sandwich shop; spies on her parents by means of magic subway. Anorexia; she suffers brain damage, and moves back home. Rory moves out, though stays in touch.
  • Rory executes a mass killer.
  • The mass killer is a rogue cop who gathered a private army in C.A.
  • The private army works in the interests of a mineral company that wants squatters removed from its land.
  • The private army kills the squatters and torches the village.
  • When Rory was a boy, he accidentally caused the death by fire of a man and his two children. Rory was never caught.
  • Rory takes an unexcused leave from work; visits the destroyed village.

Puppet intensive. [13 pages.]

 

Burnt Umber                                                                        dir, Erik Ehn

Bridges Tulsa, Rwanda and Bosnia. Jack reappears, remarried. He teaches Genocide Studies at Tulsa Junior College – his academic specialization is genocide denial (he research is supported by the “international community,” in particular by powers invested in exculpating their complicity; Jack is a professional denier). Jack’s second wife, Connie, is in the National Guard, serving in Srebrenica, coming to new consciousness about events there. Erena and Lulu are left to fend for themselves; Lulu, at one point, radically alone, is seriously hurt in a car accident… How moral carelessness and lack of empathy provide genocidal ideology with requisite permissions. [33 pages]

 

The Architecture of Great Cathedrals                        dir, Erik Ehn

Rory/Central America. An expressionistic consideration of events in Guatemala, especially around the death of Bishop Juan José Gerardi Conedera. In Architecture, Rory, lost in C.A., encounters victims of other executions, again at the hand of US trained troops. Puppet intensive. [8 pages]

 

Star                                                                                    dir, Katie Shook

Final Tulsa play. L’Ash’s daughter Crescent (we first meet her in Heavenly Shades) is a jazz singer working in Starbucks (selling beans of Rwanda, El Salvador, Guratemala…). Deeply bitter over the treatment of her mother at the hands of whites, she enacts a generalized revenge. Puppet play. [9 pages]

 

Hidebound                                                                        dir, Alison Heimstead

Last Central American play. A thematic overview of the colonial mentality – a fable of the conquest of the indigenous population by the Spanish and the Americans – conquest embodied in a conquistador, storming the landscape. Puppet play. [Two pages]

 

Dogsbody                                                                        dir, Rebecca Novick

The final play in the series; Rwanda/Uganda. a futuristic mash-up of the Iliad, the interahamwe and the Lord’s Resistance Army; genocidal combat especially from the point of view of mothers and children.

 

Forgiveness                                                                        dir, Josh Chambers

Living-with trauma is explored through the tangential story of a distressed couple in the Hudson Valley (Jack, in his third marriage), who struggle in their relationship after the accidental death of their son. How forgiveness is worked out in the home; if we negotiate a bad domestic peace for the sake of inert deadlock (where authentic expression is repressed, where growth is shut down), how do we move forward in the struggle for historical and cultural reconciliation? What are possibilities in the territory between coexistence and reconciliation?

 

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