Saturday, January 9, 2010

Outstanding International Theatre Festival in lexington, Theatre and Performance in times of Crisis and Violence

Tenth National Symposium of theatre in Academe and the First International theater festival which took place at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia in November 2009 was one of my richest experiences of these current years of being involved with different International literary festivals. Outstanding quality, artistic environment, friendly atmosphere and convenient situation were the characteristics of this festival. It revived magnificent memories of my past experiences and created a dream for a hopeful future for theatre. I felt I was at HOME!
A poem by Rumi constantly resonated in my mind: “Unity is what I sing, unity is what I speak”

Domnica Radulescu
The theme of this year’s festival was Creation and Recreation of the Myths in Theatre-War, Violence, Sexuality, Theatre and performance in time of Crisis and violence. And the four days Festival which was keenly and skillfully organized by Domnica Radulescu (professor of Romance Language, Chair of Women’s and Gender Studies and Founder Director of the National Symposium of Theatre in Academe) began on Wednesday November 11, and ended on Saturday November 14, 2009.
The program contained of several categories: Paper presentations, workshops, lectures, Staged readings, performances and cultural activities fringed to festival.
Although the participants were from richly diverse theatre professions: playwrights, scholars, actors and directors from all over the world, but the focus was mainly on Romanian theatre which brought a broad perspective on Romania before and after the fall of Communism. The presence of Romanian born Matei Visniec , the keynote playwright, and the performances and dramatic readings of his thematically diverse works gave a vivid picture of his unique theatre formed under totalitarian regimes. His plays broadened the knowledge of the audience on the reminiscence of the universality of human experience.

Matei Visniec who lives in France now and writes in French language was born in 1956 and left Romania in 1987. From an early age he discovered that Literature is a road to freedom. “For this rebellious discovery he announced that he likes all kinds of styles and forms of writing except Social Realism!”

Horses at the Window (Trap Door Theatre)
His play “Horses at the Window” directed by Radu Alexandru Nica and performed by Chicago based theatre troupe Trap Door Theatre with Holly Thomas, John Gray, Tiffany Joy Ross, John Kahara, David Holcombe and Beata Pilch was an unforgettable performance in the form of theatre of grotesque.

Beata Pilch, Artistic Director (Trap Door Theatre)

Diana Cozma, director and acting teacher at Babes Bolyai University in Romania conducted a productive workshop on “Plasticity, action and movement” brought European style of physicality combined with Jerzy Grotowski ‘s style of unmasking, revealing of the real substance: a totality of physical and mental reactions. The second workshop was Commedia Dell’Arte led by Norma Bowles, artistic director of Fringe Benefits Theatre Company in California who conducted a vital workshop, using exercises and special techniques drawn from the work of Jacques Lecoq, Philippe Gaulier, Keith Johnstone and Serena Sartori along with Kathleen Juhl from Southwestern University in Texas using Alexander Technique. In their fast-paced, seriously fun workshop, participants had the opportunity to explore and create their own two- person Lazzi (Commedia improvisations) poking fun at sexism, seduction and war, and develop physically and vocally dynamic characters using a large and diverse assortment of Italian and Balinese Commedia character masks.

Norma and Kathleen

The talented and skillful Romanian students of Babes Bolyai University in Festival of One Acts, One Person, And One Train of Action Shows, were amazingly flourishing on the stage in improvisation and different styles of acting. Short plays “Amelia breathes deeply” by Alina Nelega with Diana Turturean, “The Open Couple” by Franca Rame and Dario Fo with Andreaa Mocan and Vlad Muresan, Psychosis by Sara Kane with brilliant acting of Adina Ursu and excellent directing of Domnica, and The Architect and the Emperor of Assyria, by Fernando Arrabal with Ciprian Cosma brought a fresh energy of youth to the diverse audience. Ciprian’s piece particularly was a new take on Pina Bausch’s style of expressionist movement and dance.

Guillermo Schmidhuber from the University of Guadalajara, Mexico had a reading of his play “Never Say Adios to Columbus”, Dominca Radulescu of her play “Naturalized Women” read by Trap Door Theatre, Chicago and I had a staged reading of “Maryam’s Pregnancy” a play I wrote in 1989 in opposition to the suppressed autocratic regime of Iran. “Maryam’s Pregnancy” reflects the traumatic life of a 17 year old girl who goes through unwanted pregnancy, the failing attempted abortion and lives under constant fear and terror during Iran-Iraq war in a society where being pregnant out of wedlock brings a severe punishment... (My name was misspelled in the program!)

Maryam's Pregnancy, my play

Joan Lipkin, artistic director of That Uppity Theatre Company in Saint Louis, spoke of her experiences of working on three different productions dealing with reproductive choice such as He’s Having Her Baby, a gender reversed pro choice musical comedy and Becoming Emily a dance theatre piece about the life of abortionist nurse Emily Lyons who was badly injured in a clinic bombing.

The main part of the festival was dedicated to Theatre of War where readings and discussions on the theme of war presented several powerful plays and performances. Philoctetes Project had a staged reading from Contemporary translation of scenes from Sophocles’ Ajax and Philoctetes directed by Bryan Doerries . The project was aimed at using Greek theatre as a catalyst to address the human costs of war and the reintegration of warriors into civil life.

Robert Smith and his production of Trojan Women

Trojan Women: An Ancient Protest against Violence Revisited, directed by Robert Smith was an excellent performance. Influenced by the news about the Afghan fundamentalists who threw acid to Afghan school girls, Smith created a piece using music and movement. “When approaching an ancient text,” Smith says “I always challenge myself with what elements of its original staging I can recreate and still connect with a contemporary audience. Two of the original elements I play with in this piece are music and dance. I want to use music and dance to clarify the story of the play.”

Kristijonas Paltanavicius and Katherine Sogolow

Lysistrata Project, adapted from Aristophanes and directed by Katherine Perrault Sogolow, director, writer and singer was a large and empowering production with Florinda Ruiz, Tabitha King, Paten Hughes and the international actors and artists including myself. The production created a happy environment with dance, music, slide show and a wonderful message for unity and peace.

The performance of Caryl Churchill’s play “Seven Jewish Children” and “Seven Palestinian Children” by Debora Margolin were an amazing experience. Both plays created a productive and fruitful dialogue among the audience.

DEB MARGOLIN is a playwright, actor and founding member of Split Britches Theater Company, She is the author of eight full-length solo performance pieces, which she has toured throughout the United States, and is the recipient of a 1999-2000 OBIE Award for Sustained Excellence of Performance. Her play “Seven Palestinian Children” is the continuing conversation with Caryl Churchill.

Caryl Churchill

In addition to the artistic activities the scholar participants presented the latest issues in global theatre from different perspectives. Among them are: Sylvie Ngilla, Christa Bucklin, Jessica Otey, Kolawole Olaiya, Monica Gonzalez, Martha Eads, Kristijonas Paltanavicius, Peter Bryne, Kevin Lawrence, Lynn Marie Kutch, Ileana Orlich, Catalina Flerescu, Less Esiff and Moncef Khemiri. Although Khemiri was not present but his paper “Khamsoun and the Return of Political Theatre in Tunisia” was read in his absence.

He discussed the play Khamsoun (meaning Fifty in Arabic) by Jalila Bakar about fifty years of Tunisia’s history from the country’s independence up to today-- the rise of different Islamists and the social challenges that Tunisia is facing.

We were entertained by several enjoyable programs such as The Best of MOMIX- Dance, Acrobat, Reality, Illusion at the Lenfest Center for the Performing Arts.

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