From Film to Stage: The Chaplin Plays at the Dream Up Festival 2016

From Film to Stage

Charlie Chaplin’s beloved character the Tramp jumps from the screen and onto the stage in “The Chaplin Plays: A Double Feature,” by Don Nigro, as part of the Dream Up Festival 2016.

For those of you who have been living on Mars for the past century or so, Charlie Chaplin was a British actor, screenwriter and filmmaker. He rose to stardom during the Silent Film Era in the early part of the 20th century with his character the Tramp, a lovable, well-meaning vagrant that both provided a sympathetic figure for the common man and a poignant message about class structure in capitalist societies. Chaplin is largely considered one of the major proponents in bringing films into the artistic sphere, and his later works served to fuse political messages and satire into the fabric of the genre. His role in founding United Artists and supporting the idea that directors can and sometimes ought to produce their own work has influenced countless filmmakers since.

Yet, despite his accomplishments, Chaplin spent nearly twenty years of his career in obscurity, detested by fans who had once considered him a filmic icon.

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“The Chaplin Plays: A Double Feature” by Don Nigro. To be presented by Theater for the New City as part of the Dream Up Festival 2016. Ivette Dumeng as Charlie Chaplin. Photo by Al Foote III.

“The Chaplin Plays” are focused on the idea of stardom, positing the question if we ever truly own our reputation. For this query, Chaplin’s Tramp fits perfectly, as the first play, “Tramp on a Tightrope with Monkeys” is a one-man show, in which Chaplin reflects on his experiences with the cinema, and how in uplifting his career it also condemned it. Chaplin explains how he was drawn into stardom, how his name and image became commonplace, and how it was almost a natural progression for him to begin fusing his actual personality into his characters, resulting in him bringing politics into his work, a decision that would cost him popularity throughout the 1940s, 50s and 60s.

“The second play, ‘Charlie and the Siberian Monkey Goddess,’ deals much more with identity,” Ivette Dumeng, the artistic director of the Nylon Fusion Theatre Company and the actor playing Charlie Chaplin, said, “I’ve always loved Chaplin – his films – I could sit and watch him all day.” Indeed, Chaplin became an icon, a polarizing one that has audience in a love-hate divide even today. Don Nigro wrote “The Chaplin Plays: A Double Feature” for Dumeng and Tatyana Kot; the company decided to perform it after recognizing the play’s fixation on themes of identity, a fixation shared by many modernized societies around the world.

“Identity is always drifting away from us in the dark…” Dumeng said reflectively, “Chaplin was highly flawed. He was a perfectionist. I feel like the people that come to see something like ‘The Chaplin Plays’ will either love Chaplin so much and want to get swept away by him, or they’ll come not really believing.”

The greater narrative of the plays is about identity, as everything from the concept of the tramp to the genders of the actors portraying the characters becomes skewed. In the second play, Chaplin is hounded by Anastasia, the self-proclaimed Siberian Monkey Goddess, who is driven to disprove the notion that he is actually Charlie Chaplin. Both sides have a point, and Chaplin’s identity as the tramp in the play is almost surrealistically ambiguous.

The play also deals with gender identity, seen most readily by the fact that the actor portraying Chaplin is a woman. This casting decision feeds into the themes of identity, as it

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Chaplin (Ivette Dumeng) is interogated by Anastasia (Tatyana Kot). Photo by Igor Maloratsky.

not only seemingly justifies Anastasia’s claims that the Tramp in front of her is a hoax, but also leads the audience to disbelief. “I talked to people, and they said if they didn’t know I was a woman, if they didn’t know it was me playing Chaplin in advance, that they would have gone with it,” Dumeng said after talking to audience members after an earlier production of the play.

Dumeng if the artistic director of the Nylon Fusion Theater Company. Started in 2007 with a name derived from the cities of New York and London (NYLon) the company strives to support emerging artists, and specifically produces plays that deal with social, political and culture awareness. While the company originally produced classical plays, like the works of Shakespeare, they now produce plays written by company members or for company members. The current issues regarding identity politics and the way we find identity in American society prompted the company to produce “The Chaplin Plays.”

“I mean why do we go see theatre? It’s not just to be entertained. It’s something else. We want to be swept away,” Dumeng said.

“The Chaplin Plays: A Double Feature” will premiere at TNC on September 14 at 6:30 PM in the Community Theater. For a full performances schedule, ticket prices, and more info about the play or the festival, please visit www.dreamupfestival.org. For more information about “The Chaplin Plays” please visit http://www.nylonfusion.org/.

The glamour of it all! New York! America!

By Tim Esteves

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The Cuban Revolution at Dream Up 2016

The Cuban Revolution at Dream Up 2016

Step aside Castro, there’s a new revolution brewing, and it’s happening at TNC’s Dream Up Festival. “Alpha 66” by Robby Ramos is a new drama that explores the ways a Cuban family is thrown into disarray in the wake of the communist revolution in the 1960s.

Cuba is now, as it has always been, a hot topic in the American sphere. From the beginning of the nation’s history, when Cuba was a colony of Spain, America displayed ambitions to annex, or at least gain de facto control over the island. After Spain’s defeat in the Spanish-American War, the US declared Cuba a protectorate, installing a government whose initial pro-American attitude dissolved into bitter dislike. As a result, it’s little secret to the average passerby that the US and Cuba share a bit of an abusive relationship. Cuba had a rough breakup with America in the 1950s after Dictator Batista’s regime was overthrown by Fidel Castro’s revolutionary movement. Tensions would continue to build between the nations culminating in the Missile Crisis of October 1962- a thirteen day showdown between the United States and the Soviet Union concerning the placement of nuclear missiles in Cuba. And things have been shaky between the two ever since. It wasn’t until the later years of the Obama presidency that a reestablishing of relations between America and Cuba has occurred.

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Papo’s choice between nation and family.

Hence, “Alpha 66” comes at a time when there is a resurgence of interest in Cuba and Cuban goods in the mainland United States, after nearly fifty years of embargoes and travel bans. Tourism in Cuba is expected to increase sharply over the coming years, and famous imports such as Cuban rum and cigars are expected to begin filtering into American markets.

The narrative of the play follows a single family of common people during the apex of the Cuban Missile Crisis. As the American radio host Bill Kenny sends anti-Castro broadcasts into the island nation, the cruel warden of a prison, Madre, has the soldier Papo interrogate his own brother, Rafa, an illustrator who stands accused of distributing a propaganda poster of Che Guevara in drag. As the two brothers confront one another, their younger sister Ava is brought in for interrogation by Madre. As the play progresses, the family’s association with the terrorist group “Alpha 66” becomes evident, and Papo must choose between nation and kinship.

The parallel of the nation and the family is constant throughout the play, and the line between them is often blurred despite it never being crossed. The government in the play focuses on “control through nourishing,” said Aminta de Lara, artistic director of the Sinteatro-Intimus Company and the actor playing Madre, “dictatorships make and effort to turn people into children.” Hence, the play sees the government taking on stern, almost motherly, qualities while Papo’s family begins to resemble politics, focusing on issues of freedom of speech and thought.

The play is also concerned with democracy and freedom and the fragility with which they exist. “We’re hoping very much that we can make them think about such important values about freedom…how important democracy is, and how quickly it can go away,” de Lara said, “People take it for granted.”

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From L to R : Katia Martin as Ava, Txai Frota as Rafa, and Robby Ramos as Papo. Photo by Remy.

The title of the play is derived from Alpha 66, an anti-Castro paramilitary group formed in 1961. Largely based in Miami, Florida, and active during the 1960s and 1970s, Alpha 66 planned several assassinations of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. Though none of these attempts materialized, and hopes of an invasion to free Cuba from communist rule dissipated with the failure of the United States’ Bay of Pigs Invasion in 1961, the group is officially still active today.

“Alpha 66” is written by Robby Ramos of Sinteatro-Intimus, whose family migrated to the United States from Cuba. Sinteatro-Intimus is dedicated to preserving and rediscovering the most basic essence and elements of theatre. “Theatre is about taking photographs of the human soul,” Aminta de Lara said. “Alpha 66” is the first original play the company has produced that is not written by de Lara, and the first play directed by company member Marion Elaine.

“Alpha 66” will premiere at TNC on September 9 at 9:00 PM in the Community Theater. For a full performances schedule, ticket prices, and more info about the play or the festival, please visit www.dreamupfestival.org. For more information about “Alpha 66” please visit http://www.sinteatrointimus.org/.

By Tim Esteves

The Gothic Theater: Supernatural & the Grotesque in Dream Up 2016

The Gothic Theater

While ghosts, ghouls and other Gothic monsters prefer to dwell in dark crypts and ominous graveyards, they have been known to frequent the theater.

It’s a shame that horror is almost exclusively associated with cinema in the contemporary artistic sphere, because theater has been known to produce genuinely horrifying and thrilling productions. Horror has been making a push into the theater scene, a charge led primarily by the British. There have been highly successful productions of “The Woman in Black” in London’s West End and “Titus Andronicus” at the Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in the past few years, inspiring a influx of horror and thriller plays. The Dream Up Festival 2016 is presenting a thriller play that exists within the same genre, but one that is distinctly American; “The House of Setting Sun” by Thomas Blakeley.

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“The House of Setting Sun” is a southern Gothic thriller musical. Now there’s a genre that deserves to enter common parlance. “Hello producer, I hope you’ll look at my manuscript, it is a southern Gothic thriller musical.” It is a musical closely connected with the Gothic tradition, particularly the Gothic themes explored in literature from the genre written in the American south. Embodying themes of decay and grotesqueness, “The House of Setting Sun” engages the supernatural through the character Eudora, a mystic who travels with a carnival. She is consulted by Victor, a southern gentleman, to help communicate with the spirits of his murdered parents in an attempt to deduce the identity of their killers. Scared yet? You will be. The musical uses both visual and audio techniques to entrap the reader in the world, keeping them tense and engaged in the imminent fall of Victor’s house.

The play draws inspiration from many literary stories within the Gothic genre. The most obvious would have to be Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher.” The play utilizes the setting of a dilapidated southern estate, namely Evenfall Plantation. A far cry from the once glorious days of the old south, this ruinous manor is the stage for the characters to toil against insurmountable odds. The underscore of gloom and doom drives the plot, allowing the audience to know that there is no such thing as a happy ending. Constant parallels are drawn between the Gothic setting and the post-bellum south, invoking nostalgia for a southern society before the American Civil War, like many southern-Gothic writers like William Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor have done before.

Musically, “The House of Setting Sun” draws on a wide range of styles and genres, all of which are composed and organized to emulate the sounds of the Jazz Age, in which the story takes place. Five composers with varying backgrounds and styles collaborated on the musical, resulting in a diverse range of tunes that evoke a melancholic nostalgia and tense anticipation.

“The House of Setting Sun” will premiere at TNC on August 28 at 8:00 PM in the Johnson Theater. For a full performance schedule, ticket prices, and more info about the play or the festival, please visit www.dreamupfestival.org. For more information about “The House of Setting Sun,” please visit http://evenfall.strikingly.com/.

So long and goodnight.

By Tim Esteves

Old Subject, New Satire: CampBoHoGro! to Premiere at Dream Up Festival

Old Subject, New Satire

“CampBoHoGro!” is a surprise: it’s a satire about American politics that isn’t about Donald Trump!

In a time when Americans are anxious and rife with deep and divisive opinions regarding the upcoming presidential election, a play that looks back on past American presidents and satirizes their vices and image is a refreshing treat. There will be no Trump, Sanders or Clinton here. Instead, “CampBoHoGro!” looks back to the 60’s, satirizing past presidents like Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan.

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“Camp BoHoGro” devised by Brain melt Consortium. New York, June 25th 2016. Pictured L-R: Rachel Kerry, Bianca Kenna, Jessie Winograd, and Connor Prickett. Photo by Caitlin Ronan.

Co-creators Rachel Kerry and Jessie Winograd said that they first drew inspiration from a photograph of Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon and many other powerful men at the Bohemian Grove camp. The political and economic behemoths allegedly discussed politics and business in secrecy around a red-checkered table cloth. “We found the picture really compelling,” Winograd said, “though we are taking inspiration from real life characters, we are taking great liberties with historical events.”

The story revolves around several smaller interactions and events in the titular summer camp “CampBoHoGro!”The characters Nancy and Ayn (based on Nancy Reagan and Ayn Rand), denied entry to the men-only encampment, accidentally summon a demon spirit of the redwoods, Molochia, whose unbridled femininity threatens to destroy the camp.Meanwhile, Dick (based on Richard Nixon) and Ronny (based on Ronald Reagan) are in a bitter rivalry over the lead position in the camp’s Our Free World Pageant. PBJ (based on LBJ) is engaging in sadistic displays of power and dominance over his friend and subordinate Hubie (based on Hubert Humphrey). All the while, Hippies and journalists infiltrate the camp and add further existential threats. It’s up to the men of BoHoGro to band together to save their camp and their country.

While the play may not be a historically accurate account or representative of any of the politicians it satirizes, “CampBoHoGro!” serves as particularly potent satire about inclusion and exclusion in a time of political instability. Today, just like in 1967, America is involved in unpopular wars across the globe, the political systems corrupt and exclusive to a select elite and social unrest is widespread and vigorous, demanding everything from justice to racial and gender equality to government transparency.

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Pictured: Jessie Winograd as Dick. Photo by Caitlin Ronan.

Gender is also a significant theme of the play. Historically, Bohemian Grove has not accepted women into the camp. The cast responded to this by having all the main characters who were in actuality male be portrayed by women, and all the characters who were in actuality women be portrayed by men. The subject of male dominance and hegemony in American politics is also addressed in this manner, contributing to the overarching themes of a division between the government elite and the citizenry.

“I would say (to the audience) to be open,” Winograd said, not just to the themes of gender and political satire that makeup the backbone of the performance, but to the possibility of serious truth to coexist with the extremely silly and the patently false.

“CampBoHoGro!” is directed by Rachel Kerry, and is a devised work of theater by the Brain Melt Consortium. The Brain Melt Consortium is a name you may recognize from their past production of “A Spectacular Night with the Stars” at TNC and their play “Seven Fragments” which won the award for Best Video Design at the 2016 FRIGID Festival. BMC develops their plays via an abstract method: they decide upon a few distinct characters and plot points first and develop them to completion before writing the script. “Brain Melt Consortium’s process is a little bit like a role-playing game,” Winograd said, “We do our own research into our own characters and build our reality that way…we do a lot of improvisation together to find the nuances in the relationships between the characters.”

“CampBoHoGro!” will premiere at TNC as part of the Dream Up Festival on September 9 at 9:00 PM in the Johnson Theater. For a full performance schedule, ticket prices, and more info about the play or the festival, please visit http://www.dreamupfestival.org. For more information about the Brain Melt Consortium, please visit http://www.brainmeltconsortium.com.

Stay beautiful, America!

By Tim Esteves

Dream Up Returns

The annual Dream Up Festival returns to Theater for the New City for its newest season. The Festival annually presents fifteen to twenty new works of theater, with participants from genres of drama, comedy, musicals, experimental theater, physical theater, dance, and staged journalism and non-fiction plays. This year, the Dream Up festival has a range of enticing and challenging new works. Here’s a preview of some of the particularly interesting ideas that crossed our desk.

The play “Alpha 66” by Robby Ramos is a drama set in a Cuban prison during the Cuban Missile Crisis in the 1960s. It follows the story of Papo, a pro-Castro revolutionary as he is Alpha66postercalled into the prison in order to interrogate his brother, Rafa, who stands accused of distributing posters of Che Guevara in drag. A work of historical fiction, “Alpha 66” raises questions about duty and family, and how long the bonds of loyalty can hold out under pressure from an omnipotent, oppressive regime. The play arrives at an interesting time, considering a resurgent interest in Cuban culture and politics, following the easing of travel and trading restriction imposed upon the island nation by the United States for nearly half a century. Audiences are invited to view the workings of the Cuban government from the viewpoint of a family caught up in it, all while enjoying newly imported Cuban rum and cigars (finally!).

Another notable participant is “The Joint,” a musical with book by Curtis Jones. This play is set in 1960s Virginia, and features a rocking soundtrack reminiscent of the times. The story follows the young Corrida trying to get back on her feet after a failed career as a singer in New York. She is dragged into a web of secrets, intrigue and romance under the roof of The Joint, a juke club located under her house that has become a point of gathering for the community. With music composed by Timothy Graphenreed of “The Wiz” and choreography by industry veteran and tony award winner Kenneth L. Roberson, “The Joint” promises to be a wild and lively ride through the 1960s.

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“Missamma” performed in Dallas, Texas on March 27, 2016. L-R: Gayathria Kandadai, Kalyani Siddhartha, Rajeswari Udayagiri, Vijaya Bhaskar Rayavaram, Uttej Akupatni. Photo by Bytegraph Productions.

 

“Missamma” is a play written and performed in Telugu, a South Indian Language, with English subtitles, based off the 1955 movie of the same name. “Missamma” follows the story of two Indian immigrants of different religions in 1970s America, who, in order to find employment, must pretend to be a married couple. As the plot thickens, the two begin to develop feelings for one another, while a local detective uncovers a secret that changes their lives forever. Written as a comedy, the play is a family production, accessible to English-speaking audience with humor that is inspired by film legend Charlie Chaplin.

Ivette Dumeng as Charlie Chaplin

“The Chaplin Plays” Ivette Dumeng as Charlie Chaplin. Photo courtesy of Nylon Fusion Theatre Company.

Speaking of Charlie Chaplin, Dream Up is also presenting “The Chaplin Plays: A Double Feature,” by Don Nigro. Performed by Ivette Dumeng of the Nylon Fusion Theatre Company, “The Chaplin Plays” present two new short plays featuring the likeness of everybody’s famous tramp, bowler hat and mustache and all. Both plays explore the question of identity, and follow Chaplin’s ideas about life, death and, oddly enough, monkeys from Siberia. Abandon everything you thought you knew about Chaplin before strolling into this production.

All of these plays will premiere as part of the Dream Up Festival 2016 at Theater for the New City. We invite you to join us from August 28 to September 18 for these plays and more! For information about scheduling, ticket prices, and performance reservations, please visit http://www.dreamupfestival.org.

See you then, and never stop dreaming!

By Tim Esteves

“NOMA” uses movement to visualize a young girl’s fight for her life against a dark and uncontrollable force

Original artwork by Sara Zepezauer

As I walk into the Brooklyn Airspace I find myself in a warehouse with tall ceilings and scaffolding. Immediately my eyes are drawn to long blue silks that hang from ceiling to floor. A young woman pulls herself up the fabric using just her arms, and I am unable to look away asshe intertwines her arms and legs and effortlessly twirls and untwirls. Suddenly she lets go- the silk quickly unravels as she shoots towards the ground, letting the fabric catch her at the last minute.

Rehearsing at the Brooklyn Airspace (photo by Maia Sacca-Schaeffer)

I have entered one of the rehearsals for “NOMA,” a wordless movement piece with aerial dance directed by Sara Zepezauer and choreographed by the Circus Solaris Collective. In it a little girl’s world exists solely on her canvas. When she steps away to look at her work, she is swept up again in her strokes, moving among the colors she combines. As the darkness within her starts to multiply and becomes more aggressive, black enters into her painting and it becomes increasingly clear that she is dying from something that is seductive, dangerous and growing at an exponential rate. In the midst of this consuming darkness, an uncontrollable force takes over her mind and body and it remains unclear until the very end whether this is a self-created reality or the driving force of her art. The work uses painting as a metaphor for the darkness that can overtake us in our futile flight from death, pairing concept with visual representation and using movement to emulate the strokes of a paintbrush.

Zepezauer says that a year ago she went through a difficult time and this show became a way for her to cope with what she was experiencing. She says the piece seeks to explore the “uncontrollable force a sickness can create when your body becomes a host to something you can’t control.” The darkness that overtakes the girl in the show is intentionally ambiguous and it is left for us to decide what fuels this darkness and whether it even exists. “NOMA” speaks to anyone who has endured or watched a loved one endure a darkness too overwhelming to control, too large to conquer and too seductive to resist.

L-R: Rachel Boyadjis, Sara Zepezauer and Emily Henrie (photo by Maia Sacca-Schaeffer)

There are three members of the ensemble at today’s rehearsal: Sara Zepezauer, Rachel Boyadjis and Emily Henrie. Zepezauer has always been a dancer, starting when she was two years old. But when a tragic accident at age 18 forced her to have knee surgery she thought her dance career was over. She revisited silks after the accident, making her tentative first climb again after six months of immobility. While she couldn’t stand or dance on the ground, dancing in the air was a different story. She made the move in 2011 from Los Angeles to New York City and continued doing aerial dance, directing her first show “The Secret Below” in 2014. She has been doing silks for nine years now. Boyadjis is Zepezauer’s performance partner, but her background is based in theater writing and performance. Thus she brings a different viewpoint to the process of creating “NOMA” and says she helps with developing ideas about how the different parts on stage interact with one another. Four years ago she decided to give silks a try and after going to a class was drawn to the way it allowed her to express herself with the same freedom and emotion she found through writing. Henrie is a gymnast and she will be doing a solo within the show involving tumbling, hand balancing, and line drawing with chalk. The variety of backgrounds and experiences each member brings allows for diverse techniques and styles within the show.

The dancers’ movements will be accompanied by an overhead projector creating a dynamic backdrop in which someone will be mixing and dropping paint on a tray of water in real time. This projection will serve as the inspiration for the dancers’ movements and guide their reactions, making each performance slightly different. Zepezauer says that the painting theme that shapes the piece stems from her being a very visual thinker who often draws things before making them real. She had drawn many of the ideas for “NOMA” previously and now feels ready and excited to bring them to life. The show will also feature music described as “sound sculptures,” where sounds are built up and distorted, deconstructed and reconstructed to create experimental patterns that interact with the movement in real time. “NOMA” encourages performers and audience members to enlist all the senses and be immersed in a world of sound, sculpture and movement.

Rachel Boyadjis at rehearsal (photo by Maia Sacca-Schaeffer)

The process for creating and rehearsing the visually complex and beautiful movements of “NOMA” involves improvisation and brainstorming, with the piece constantly evolving and developing. The Circus Solaris Collective choreographed the project and it is the first piece =they have produced. The group fosters a collaborative and supportive environment that enlists creative ideas and experimentation to create something powerful. Their rehearsal process is at times individual, for instance if one of them has a solo they might work on it on their own first and then seek feedback from the other members. While the creation process involves improv and testing ideas, Zepezauer says that once they find movements and images they like they become established as choreography within the show.

Sara Zepezauer practicing silks (photo by Maia Sacca-Schaeffer)

Watching Zepezauer and Boyadjis rehearse on the silks I am blown away. I am amazed at how fluid and seamless their movements are and how weightless they look as they glide up and down. They agree that aerial dance is extremely freeing, empowering them to create shapes and images in the air. Boyadjis says that the silks are based around the idea of tension, with the angle of the fabric responsible for keeping you safe. She says that silks have their own vocabulary and there are many types of wraps and knots. There are some climbs that only involve feet or only hands, and certain drops where you catch yourself or others where you don’t need to. She also describes “transition moves” that are necessary to unify the poses into a fluid story. Boyadjis enjoys the way silks involve a process of constantly building on what you have learned and also that they allow for personal stylization. Silks require upper body strength and flexibility, and Zepezauer says that doing handstands, planks and hand balancing are all essential to build up the “pushing and pulling vocabulary that keeps the balance.” Zepezauer says “NOMA” is best described as a movement show and that aerial is just a piece of its larger framework, with each component flowing seamlessly so that no one part is more important in telling the story than another. 

Rachel Boyadjis rehearsing silks (photo by Maia Sacca-Schaeffer)

“NOMA” transports us into a new world and puts us into the body of a girl whose fight against darkness becomes our fight, constantly making us question whether that girl on stage is in fact us. Zepezauer says that while “NOMA” is based on a deeply personal experience she hopes that every member of the audience can relate it to their lives and experiences and find their own meaning in the movements, thus integrating each of us into its story.

Original artwork by Sara Zepezauer

By Maia Sacca-Schaeffer      

Theater for the New City’s Dream Up Festival will present the American premiere of “NOMA” September 9 to 19 at the Johnson Theater.

For more information:

http://www.circussolaris.com

http://www.gofundme.com/noma2015

http://www.dreamupfestival.org/SHOW15-14-NOMA.html

http://www.jsnyc.com/season/dreamup_2015/nomaxxxt.htm

“hOMAge” is a journey through the letters of a WWII refugee who refuses to let the inherited trauma of the past define her future

Original poster designed by Melody Often, 2014

“hOMAge” shows us the way theater and movement can breathe new life into stories of the past. The work employs physical theater to explore the letters and poetry of the director’s grandmother, Hella Kurth (“Oma” in German), a WWII refugee, cancer survivor and yogini. Devised by The Clearing Collaborative Ensemble and directed by Natanya Ruth Silverman, it is part narrative, part movement piece.

Silverman was inspired to create “hOMAge” as a way of sharing the words and wisdom of her grandmother with others, words that have helped guide her own path in life. She had a group of letters from her grandmother spanning a fifty year period, and the correspondences covered everything from how to live a fulfilling life to ruminations on the way life shifts and changes. Silverman said that after the strong reactions the letters elicited when she shared them with friends, bringing some to tears, she knew she wanted to find a way to share the words with a larger audience. Thus with ‘hOMAge” we get to temporarily look at the world through Kurth’s eyes and let her words touch us.

Hella Kurth (photo from truthruth8.wix.com/the-clearing)

The piece is devised by the all-female Clearing Collaborative Ensemble of choreographers, musicians, and actors who create the physical and emotional world of the story. Silverman says that she always knew she wanted this to be a show with a lot of strong women because the letters are very much about womanhood. The story is a narrative about the women in her grandmother’s lineage and a meditation on the “female artist voice that wants to be expressed but has been stifled over generations.” The show zooms out to see how certain mindsets carry across generations, looking at Silverman’s great-grandmother who was discouraged from being a singer, and how Kurth stifled her own creative impulse to focus on raising a family. With “hOMAge,” Silverman breaks the cycle of three generations of women who felt they had to silence and repress their artistic sides, literalizing this idea in the show with the “woman in paper,” who is the one who finds Kurth’s letters and though initially overwhelmed, reaches an epiphany about how everything before her became “stopped up.” This woman realizes the importance of expression through creation, finally able to turn over a new leaf after honoring and understanding the past.

Silverman started acting at a young age in a professional children’s theater company and knew right away it was where she was at home. This exposed her early on to all elements of theater creation and the process that goes into a show. She minored in theater in college but since she didn’t see theater as a way to make a living, she started working as a teacher. She directed plays at her school and got a grant to bring back its theater curriculum, pulling her back into the theater world. She is drawn to physical theater and devised work and since 2008 she has focused on this less-traditional style that works to “express the cumulative consciousness of all the collaborators.” Her desire to keep learning about movement theater led her to train in mask-making, mime, character development and collaborative theater with Dell ‘Arte International in Northern California, The Grotowski Institut in Brezinska, Poland and Ecole Internationale de Theatre Jacques Lecoq in Paris. She is currently studying physical dance theater in India to continue developing a unique approach for devising work. She is constantly seeking to learn new things and gather tools to incorporate into her creation and rehearsal process.

The 2014 cast rehearsing “hOMAge” (photo from truthruth8.wix.com/the-clearing)

“hOMAge” is a devised theater work, which Silverman describes as something that has a concept, theme, or text as its foundation. This is a radical approach that trusts the impulses of the body to guide the creation process. The actors explore how their bodies can be used to tell the story and brainstorm personal stories, poems and songs that relate to core themes of the text. For “hOMAge” Silverman says the actors pulled out lines from Kurth’s letters that meant something to them and would improvise scenes or physical images to evoke the text. She would then film these images and the group would discuss what did and didn’t work to determine the strongest elements that would permanently remain in the show, adding to the layers of dialogue and movement. The process is in many ways just as important as the final product and Silverman says it fosters a collaborative environment that incorporates the actors into the story and encourages a personal connection. Silverman has been working on making more shows like this because she is drawn to this cathartic process. The strong emotion that spurs each of her pieces creates something both poignant and authentic.

Silverman and the original cast of hOMAge from 2014 (photo from truthruth8.wix.com/the-clearing)

The ensemble will be dressed in all white to unify them as well as to turn their bodies into projection screens for stop animation images and even old family photos from her grandmother’s journal. The show will also use paper and pieces of cardboard but there’s no fixed set–the actors themselves will create the space. This approach pushes the actors be be creative in how they bring this world to life for audiences, constantly testing the boundaries of communication and how we can tell a story using physical movements. Yoga plays an important role in guiding these physical movements and Silverman says this stems from the fact that Kurth practiced yoga for over 50 years and it greatly influenced her life philosophy. Silverman knew in making this piece that she wanted to become yoga certified (she did this is 2013 in Thailand) and incorporate it into the show. At the beginning of every rehearsal she uses yoga and meditation to help center the group and give them calm and focus, and yoga’s conventions also guide the way the ensemble moves and understands their own physicality.

In “hOMAge” the actors are on stage the entire time and during a particular scene some might be speaking, others creating the set, others the soundscape. This unconventional approach leads to every step and gesture being “precise and timed because everyone is holding the space for each other and creating every moment.” Music plays an important role in the work with some of the actors singing, something Silverman has never incorporated into “hOMAge.” The music is largely the result of vocal sound effects with only small hand instruments used and every actor plays a role in bringing this music to life. She says that three of the women in the ensemble serve as the band for the show and have written songs using her grandmother’s words. Silverman gave some of the cast members lines or words from the letters to serve as a springboard for their experimentation and creation of these songs. Many of the songs elicit Kurth’s world and Germany of the 1940s. Music will also be playing as the audience walks in to the theater, as if they are walking into an ongoing story. Silverman breaks the fourth wall by letting the audience get a look behind the scenes before the show starts to deformalize the theater process and incorporate each of us into the process of bringing the piece to life.

Cast from the 2014 version of “hOMAge” (photo from truthruth8.wix.com/the-clearing)

“hOMAge” has been continually developing over the years and there have been various renditions of it, each enabling Silverman to find new “beautiful nuggets” in the letters and think of fresh ways to bring them to the performance realm. Silverman says there is always room to explore new elements of the story and excavate them in greater depth. She describes the show as “ever-evolving” and she knows that the way for it to live and grow is through the creativity, energy and voices of others. She says it is exciting and rewarding to watch the piece transform and take on new life through this process, saying, “this is the work that I’m meant to be doing. I love everything about it.” What makes “hOMAge” so powerful is that it shows us the way art fosters community and interconnectedness, tying together people from vastly different worlds and unifying their stories. Silverman hopes that sharing her grandmother’s words will touch people and empower women to continue to break the cycle by contributing their talents and voices.

Director Natanya Ruth Silverman

By Maia Sacca-Schaeffer

Theater for the New City’s 2015 Dream Up Festival will present the work September 17 to 20 at Producers’ Club Theaters, 358 West 44th Street.

For more information:

http://truthruth8.wix.com/the-clearing

http://www.dreamupfestival.org/SHOWTS15-05-hOMAge.html

http://www.jsnyc.com/season/dreamup_2015/homagext.htm