In the Trenches: Playwright Catherine Filloux

by Tara Bracco

in In the Trenches,Interviews

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Last April, I was on a panel titled Theatre for Social Transformation presented by Amnesty International’s Human Rights Art Festival.  One of my fellow panelists was the award-winning playwright Catherine Filloux, whose plays include Eyes of the Heart, Lemkin’s House, The Beauty Inside, and Silence of God. Over the last 20 years, Filloux has written over 20 plays, and she is known for writing about big issues like genocide, honor killings, and gender-based violence.

I was really inspired by Filloux’s career and wanted to learn more about her work, so I recently interviewed her by phone. I thought I would take a moment to share some of her thoughts with TCG readers because she said some interesting things about playwriting, expanding audiences, and the theatre’s unique ability to foster dialogue.

On Playwriting

“Writing plays for the theatre is the most exciting thing I can think of doing.

Filloux is passionate about the theatre and uses her voice as a playwright to tell stories focusing on human rights issues. “I choose to tell stories about the world, stories about survival,” Filloux said. Her latest play Dog and Wolf, which had a successful run at 59E59 Theaters last February, addresses the Bosnian genocide and political asylum in the United States. Filloux describes the job of a theatre-maker as someone “who creates a prism that is dependent upon the way light hits it.” This is her poetic way of saying that she expects different people will have different interpretations of her work. Her plays are not driven by an agenda. Instead, she hopes her creative work will raise awareness and dialogue about human rights violations happening in countries like Cambodia, Turkey, and Rwanda.

On Audiences

“There are large pockets of the country that are left out of the theatre audience.

Recognizing that a majority of the U.S. population does not attend traditional theatre, Filloux got involved in her own audience outreach efforts and is working with presenters in different neighborhoods to bring her plays directly to the people. With this new model, she is bringing her work into different communities and expanding the notion of where theatre takes place. “As a playwright, I’m excited by challenging the idea of what theatre is for different groups of audiences,” she said. On August 14, 2010, a reading of Filloux’s play Dog and Wolf will be presented by Still Waters in a Storm to the community of Bushwick, Brooklyn. It will be one of eight readings that will take place in non-traditional theatre spaces in neighborhoods throughout New York City.

On Dialogue

“Theatre can provide the opening for dialogue.”

For some theatres, panel discussions and talkbacks after the play are a marketing tool to draw audiences. For Filloux, panel discussions are an important part of the theatre experience. “In 2004, I made a commitment to hold panels after the show as a way to allow people to have a discussion about the play,” she explained. Talkbacks following her plays have included distinguished speakers from the United Nations and human rights scholars. She views the theatre as a place that offers a unique environment for dialogue. An Inter Press Service article quoted Filloux as saying, “I realized that the theatre is this depoliticized space where people could finally feel free to tell their stories.”

During our phone chat, Filloux said something else that really interested me. She mentioned that her recent production of Dog and Wolf at 59E59 Theaters sold out and that there is a “growing market for these subjects.” When I asked her what she attributes this to, she stated that one reason may be that human rights law is a young field and that people are becoming more interested in these issues.

I wonder, TCG readers, if you think this is true. Are people these days more interested in seeing productions with themes about human rights? And if so, why?

-Tara

Tara Bracco is TCG’s Institutional Giving Officer. Her op-eds and articles on women’s issues, the arts, and economics have appeared in local and national publications. She is the founder of Poetic People Power, a spoken word group dedicated to combining art and activism.

  • Seema Sueko

    Bravo!
    - Seema Sueko, Mo`olelo Performing Arts Company

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  • http://www.tippingoverbackwards.com Liz Maestri

    Great interview, and cheers to two very brilliant women.

  • Tascheena

    I totally agree! Human Rights is definitely a cause of my generation. I recently graduated with a BA in Theatre and I have been working on defining what type of work I will do and create. The funny thing is that I have said exactly what Ms. Filloux outlined here. It is really inspiring that someone who is actively part of the field sees what I sees. And is doing the work to make a difference. Thank you!

  • Bob Braswell

    I think people have always been interested in exploring the issue of human rights. It's just not very often that these plays have an opportunity to be produced. I hope the success that Filloux had with her play at 59E59 will inspire other off-broadway and broadway producers to fund such intriguing works.

    Bob Braswell
    Co-Executive Director
    People's Theatre Project