(Pictured: Fernando Córdova Hernández, Seth Bockley)
Post written by Devon de Mayo
Our time working in Mexico with the On the Road program was so fruitful. It was full of laughter and explorations of clown, improv and language. We are working towards a finished one-act, now titled Guerra: A Clown Play. Our three amazing Mexican clown performers Artus, Fernando and Madeliene along with Seth and I found our groove in Mexico and worked through 8-hour rehearsal days to build and shape our play. It was a productive week full of joking, rehearsing and frozen yogurt.
However, I feel like our last evening brought home the serious side of our chosen theme “guerra.” As we sat discussing the two invited performances we did of our work-in-progress, our discussion turned to the reality of the theme we had chosen – violence and war – as artists from Mexico and America. A friend of Artus’ commented “the difference between Mexico and America right now is that we’re not safe in Mexico.” The bluntness of this statement was alarming. It’s true. We face a very different reality in America than our neighbors in Mexico. “We live in a failed state,” said more than one of our collaborators. Everyone we met was so thoughtful, kind, gracious and positive, but also everyone had a story. I can’t recall a person we met who had not had a brush with gun violence, kidnapping, theft, or lawlessness. It is a reality in Mexico in a way that I can’t possibly know. In fact, one of the most startling things was the casualness of how people tell about their brushes with crime. These often harrowing stories were told as if it were natural to encounter such things. And of course, in Mexico these days, it is. It was humbling.
It was a very interesting note to leave Mexico on. One guest commented that our piece is very funny…in Mexico City. But would be received very differently in Chihuahua or Juarez. I had gotten so wrapped up in the clowning that the reality of what our two nations face together, this crisis, seemed distant. And yet in that final day of working together it came strongly back into focus.
One thing I took away from that late night conversation, was that there was a strong interest from our Mexican invited audience to know how this material will go over in the states. And I realized that I would love to help facilitate a dialogue between Mexicans and Americans and perhaps we could do that if we stage this play in both countries and find ways to put our audiences in touch with one another. Mexico City and Chicago are in the same time zone, so perhaps it could even happen in real time. Plus, there seems to be a willingness to have a difficult discussion after you laugh. At least that is something this work has taught me. Laughter is a great gateway to discussion. It loosens us up, takes away the taboo and lets us ask the questions we all fear are “dumb questions.” Now, this component of audience dialogue is at the forefront of my thinking when planning next steps for the piece.
Devon de Mayo is a Chicago based director and the Co-Artistic Director of Dog & Pony Theatre Co. She serves as director of education at Northlight theatre and also teaches adjunct at Northwestern University, at the Chicago high school for the arts and the national high school institute. This spring Devon will direct a new musical for Dog & Pony and an adaptation of An Actor Prepares at the University of Chicago.
Seth Bockley is a playwright and director at large. His plays include February House (with lyricist/composer Gabriel Kahane), Ask Aunt Susan, The Twins Would Like To Say, Laika’s Coffin, Boneyard Prayer. Adaptations: Jon and CommComm (from short stories by George Saunders). Directing: The Ugly One by Marius von Mayenburg, Civilization (all you can eat) and 1001 by Jason Grote, and Jon, winner of the 2008 Jeff Award for Best New Adaptation. He was a recipient of Theater Communications Group’s New Generations grant from 2005-2007, and is currently an artist in residence at the University of Chicago.
The Global Connections program was designed by TCG and is funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Learn more here.