In her excellent kick-off essay for the TCG Salon, Caridad Svich writes: “Form for form’s sake, however, does not innovation make. It need go hand in hand with content.” In the many years I have been reading plays—many hundreds of them, from over a hundred countries—it strikes me that the scripts that excited me most, and those that were ultimately selected/shortlisted for the hotINK festival (now hotINK at the Lark) were those in which form married content, and, regardless of aesthetic, I could only imagine that story being told that way. For me, it also follows that whether a project is initiated by the playwright, the director, or an ensemble of actors, the processes and choices of all these artists—the form, the content and the style—must also go “hand in hand.”
Every so often, in conversation or in an interview, I am asked what drives me to introduce work from other countries, often plays in translation –which are so seldom given full productions in the U.S.—and though it is moving and entertaining to hear stories from places as diverse as France and Singapore, Syria and Chile, it is the larger theatrical conversation that interests me most. For the first few years that I presented readings of work from abroad, that meant, very specifically, the broader conversation between playwrights, through their work. (And please note: no organization has done more to build bridges between playwriting cultures than the Lark Play Development Center, which is how hotINK became part of the Lark’s programming.) But more recently, I’ve begun to realize that the impact of new playwriting from other cultures can be felt on approaches to acting and directing as well. The demands of innovative work, no matter its culture of origin, can inspire actors and directors to make new demands on themselves, and the result is often, well, innovative. To wit: the remarkable performance of Tina Benko in the Women’s Project production of Elfride Jelinek’s Jackie, directed by Tea Alagić, which inspired me to invite Tina to take on the reading of a very challenging piece in the recent hotINK at the Lark. The play, a raucous roller-coaster called Pride, Pursuit and Decapitation, by French author Marion Aubert and wonderfully translated by Kimberly Jannerone and Erik Butler, is essentially a series of highly theatrical rants, punctuated by brief scenes between two or three characters, in which the inner life—the insecurities, fantasies, and the rage– of the “Playwright” (Tina Benko) is hilariously exposed. One of the other visiting hotINK playwrights noted, with great admiration, that Marion’s play broke every rule he’d been taught about dramaturgy…
And I believe that, before the festival, Marion was concerned that the U.S. actors would want to take “naturalistic, psychological” approach to her play—a generalization about American actors that is hardly baseless, but is nonetheless outdated. With director Lisa Rothe at the helm, the cast, led by Tina Benko and including Mia Katigbak, Susan Louise O’Connor, Steven Rishard, Daniel Pearce and Michael Laurence, dove into the language and the brilliant madness of the characters with such abandon, that the audience spent the evening alternately delighted and awed. The actors had simply made themselves available to the (very innovative) text and and let it tell them “how to act.” And director Lisa Rothe, in her wisdom, did not impose a particular directorial concept on the process, but allowed herself—and the actors—to discover the secrets of the material collectively and collaboratively. Form, content, style—hand, in hand, in hand.
CATHERINE CORAY is the director of hotINK at the Lark, a reading festival of new plays from around the world, presented at the Lark Play Development Center. hotINK has introduced work from over 50 countries, including Bulgaria, Canada, Germany, Greece, India, Ireland, Libya, Nigeria, The Philippines, Syria and Uganda. She is on the faculty of NYU’s Experimental Theatre Wing and teaches and collaborates with artists in many countries, including Austria, Belarus, Chile, Cuba, Lebanon and Egypt. She teaches each fall at NYU in Abu Dhabi and is planning a conference on Middle-Eastern Women in Theatre that will be hosted by the NYU Abu Dhabi Institute in NYC March 3rd and 4th, 2014.