Sunday, September 21, 2014

A shrinking and growing world

We live in an ever shrinking world and yet the more it shrinks the more our understanding seems to deepen. It’s a world where technology has made it so that at the touch of a button we can communicate almost instantaneously with someone thousands of miles away. With just a few keystrokes we can translate text from almost any language into our own in the time it takes a webpage to load. In this time when access is at its peak, sincere cultural exchange is critical.

A number of productions have informed my desire to achieve work that transcends language and culture (notably National Theatre of the Deaf’s Peer Gynt and Teatr Zar’s Caesarian Section), but it wasn’t until I trained with Double Edge Theatre that I actively sought out ways to incorporate multiple languages into tKAPOW’s work. My summer with DET was focused on intense training that was led in relation to the company’s exploration of Homer’s Odyssey. Early on in my time there, I was taught a series of Bulgarian folk songs. What did these songs, I wondered, have to do with the Odyssey? As we neared the end of the intensive, we started to use these songs in our etude work and the answer became clear. The language didn’t matter; it was the storytelling that was important. A Bulgarian folk song made a perfect sea shanty for Odysseus’ sailors. This was an important realization for me and it has shaped much of my work since then.

Last July, I took part in the International Symposium for Directors at LaMaMa Umbria is Spoleto, Italy. Participants from throughout the world took part in two weeks of workshops, attending shows, and many late-night discussions in the gorgeous Italian countryside. There, I first met Valentina Lattuada, a theatre artist of Italian and Brazilian heritage who is currently residing in Barcelona. Valentina and I worked on a couple of pieces while in Italy and quickly realized that, despite our cultural differences, we shared a common theatrical aesthetic. Before leaving Italy, we decided that we wanted to collaborate on a project that would cross the barriers of distance, language, and culture.

In January of this year, Valentina made her first visit to NH to lead an open training and to continue our discussion of potential collaborative projects. Not long after Valentina returned to Barcelona, she was contacted by her friend, Nick Farewell, a Korean-born Brazilian author who was interested in having one of his novels adapted for the stage. After reading it, we knew that Uma Vida Imaginária would be the perfect piece for collaboration, and decided to premiere it in June 2015. To accomplish that, we knew that we’d need to find away to overcome the boundaries of language and culture, but most importantly distance. In August, Valentina came to NH again for our Artists’ Retreat and then a week of work developing the text for Uma Vida Imaginária.

The only missing piece was finding a second Portuguese speaking actor to help develop the script so that it remained faithful to Nick’s novel but also resonated with an American audience. We were so blessed to find Rafael Marinho, a Boston-based Brazilian actor to do this work with us. So, for four days Carey, Peter, Valentina, Rafael, and I worked through the text and really started exploring the beauty of Nick’s writing There were lots of fun moments (the Pulp Fiction-esque realization that Brazilians don’t use the term “quarter pounder with cheese”) but more often than not we found that Nick’s characters, themes, and words transcended language and culture.

This month, we’ve already had two conversations over Skype to continue the planning and the work we started this summer. As these calls and text conversations continue throughout the year, we’ll continue to be in awe of the way that our as world is shrinking our understanding of it continues to deepen.

~Matt Cahoon

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