Post image for The Director’s Place

(This post is a part of the Artistic Innovation blog salon curated by Caridad Svich for the 2013 TCG National Conference: Learn Do Teach in Dallas).

Kochi, India, July 2013. I travel the backwaters on a decorated raft. Among passages, largely unpopulated areas, the end of villages, fireflies. It is the green I had seen from the plane at the time of my arrival to Thiruvananthapuram. The lushness of the jungle. I imagined from the plane how would it sound. On the boat, in front of me, two tourists talk continuously about the inconveniences of India. They don´t seem to realize the hindrance of their voices. I protrude my head over the border of the boat. I become anxious (the discrepancy between the aural and the visual, the eternity of the jungle and the chatter). I know the true sound is somewhere. I begin to hear lines in my mind, the lines from a play script as a mantra. I try to make my memory more precise. Not thinking about meaning, but carrying more concreteness in the remembrance. I still cannot hear the jungle, but somehow, I begin to see it more clearly.

The mantra I am repeating comprises the words of Puerto Rican writer Manuel Ramos Otero´s (1948-1990) “The Story of the Woman of the Sea.” Our theatre, Casa Cruz de la Luna, produced the play in Puerto Rico and Manhattan two months ago. During the performance, I ,sitting on a chair at the margin of the stage, enunciate the short story from beginning to end. The flow of words by a single person brings to mind other theatrical productions. There are, however, particulars.

“The Story of the Woman of the Sea” is an hour-and-a-half-long, cyclical, prismatic tale. The storyteller (“el cuentero”) relates the story of love of two men in New York, a Puerto Rican writer and an Italian X-ray technician. The storyteller is the writer (the continuous voice) although he does not always refer to himself in the first person. To live (to love, to write), that is, in order for the story to be, the men propose accounts of a Woman of the Sea. For the storyteller, she is Palmira Parés, obscure poet from Manatí, Ramos Otero´s hometown. For Angelo, she is his grandmother, Vicenza. But structures of belonging (of identity) are fluid. Palmira’s life and poetry seem to mirror that of Puerto Rican literary master Julia de Burgos, yet they also diverge. There are no demarcation lines between the different interwoven stories: repeating, reflecting, returning to a same place that is never the same place (the structure of a spiral). In this maze of relationships the characters are always becoming others to become selves (and vice versa), liquid selves. On stage, the actors move autonomously, inhabiting images, gestures, structures, seldom illustrating the narration. While I voice the text, I look at them. I am the director of the piece.

In Spanish there is a saying: “Cada cosa en su sitio” ‒ “Each thing (each one) in its place.” Yet, the director´s traditional place during a performance ‒either sitting, watching, taking notes, or far away, disengaged from a product now belonging to the actors ‒has always, carried for me an interruption, a loss. In my small theatre in San Germán, Puerto Rico, I have presented performances as rehearsals (yet it becomes an issue of nomenclature, the event turning into an “open rehearsal” even when there is no performance in sight, only infinite process). In Fouquet´s proverbial 15th-century painting of the martyrdom of Saint Apollonia, one sees the figure, supposedly a “maître du jeu,” dictating lines, controlling the actors, the materiality. In the 20th century, Jacques Derrida talks about Antonin Artaud’s resistance to “la parole soufflée”, the prompted (spirited out) word of the author that kills the theatrical turning it into just a re-presentation of an already written script. Although Artaud seems to favor the director in his metaphysics of a living theatre; sometimes, in current practices, resonances of the violence of the demiurgic creator surface, transferred to the director’s role. It is a violence (a centrality) that somehow manages to be there in spite of collaboration, devising, listening, organicity, spontaneity.

April 2013. Rehearsals of “The Story of the Woman of the Sea.” Elements of aggression and viscerally emerge in the concept of the mise-en-scène. In a magical act, a performer-magician tries to make a liquid appear and disappear in a glass. From silly mock magic, he goes to hidden urination, frontal urination, drinking the contents. In a scene, fake blood is cut with a razor blade over a mirror; in another, skin is cut to fill the blank page. Still another sequence: a body is barely caressed while the air and the floor are hit by a belt. It culminates in a brutal belt stroke over the flesh. At one point, we agree that the violence should not yet be enacted in rehearsal. At another moment, one actor does. He felt it was needed. The other actor questions it. Issues of agreement and trust arise. The lines between aggressor and object of aggression are suddenly blurred beyond the physical gesture: for both are part of a frame conceived by another, the director. What in a solo performance art scenario might be read as personal empowerment here becomes enmeshed in a certain plotting.

My plotting is the notion that the stage should be made flux, an unstable territory of fluctuation between performative and representational acts: between the harsh imperative of the flesh as flesh promulgated by body art and the theatrical conventions of fiction, the Stanislavskian magic if.

I (naively, reflectively): “Why, ultimately, are ´we´ doing these acts?”

ACTORS (one of their answers): “We are doing them because of you.”

The materialization of the mind´s eye (I) has, since the beginning, formed my drive to engage in theatre. Collective creation has never yielded the feeling. I struggle to make processes collaborative, but I cannot escape carrying the final say of an aesthetic viewpoint. I now realize that many of the devices that could be read as vectors of artistic experimentation in my theatre have been ways of trying to transact this subjectivity of the director. The negotiations sometimes take the form of “windows” in which mathematically scored action gives way to segments of chance, the unconscious, accidents of technological media, audience reactions, actors´ instincts. Sometimes the sequences are multidimensional: actors voicing a set script while automatically typing projected writing; performers feeding lines of the play to internet search engines to generate other lines; giving the audience the chance to kiss the octopi-smeared bodies of the performers to prevent them from vomiting; giving actors the freedom to repeat movements, unexpectedly, viciously (as physical mantras, to exhaustion). In a part of “The Story …,” I watch them create choreographies within an improvisational framework, anew in each show. I don´t control the images. More disturbingly, I don´t control the rhythm. Unlike Tadeusz Kantor, that iconic Polish director, sitting at the edge of the stage, correcting, trying to configure/reconfigure (also lovingly) a world of its own, I (also sitting at the edge) am now constrained from directing. I only speak a parallel fiction and watch. Sometimes what I watch is not even the stage action, but a projection of it created by the actors with live cameras, sometimes I watch the public, at times I close my eyes.

I (Manuel Ramos Otero´s words): “Uno crea el amado para su adoración, uno crea el amor mientras el amado se recrea en el amor. Uno sale de uno mismo para reencontrarse en el amado, pero el amado no se apresura.”

Like a lover, a true lover (the one who loves the most in a relation), I thread possession (the generative) with impotence.

Barthes once comments on the obscene, sentimental character of the lover´s tears, for these refer us not to sex, but to something self-needing (a sign). In two instances (in two shows) of “The Story…” I find myself, unexpectedly, at the verge of tears. Yet the need to enunciate the text brings me back: it is the drifting of the mantra between external and internal dimensions (hopefully a similar drifting in perception happens in the audience).

On artistic innovation: can one take this construct (“artistic innovation”) which can be so encasing and frustrating if set as a goal, and consider it as a vaguely defined outcome, a minor side effect of loving (of the reinventions of giving the self/possessing other selves through the creative act)? Can the structure of love be used as a discursive device for making the position of the director in contemporary theatre still a valid one (that is, a vulnerable one)? [ I recall the image of Judith Malina with her arms tightened around one of her Living Theatre actors, hanging her minute body from his neck.] Can one find a mantra to focus in and out of these circles ‒of doing/undoing/redoing (inevitably theatre)‒ just enough to begin to lose a little the sense of positioning (actors/directors/audiences/reality/virtuality/subjects/ objects) ? As a director, can I come to terms with this recent need of no longer having a proper place, but an emotion?

Aravind Enrique Adyanthaya is a Puerto Rican experimenter, writer and stage director. In the U.S., his work has been presented and/or developed by: Red Eye Collaboration, The Guthrie Theatre, The Children’s Theatre Company, Intermedia Arts, HERE, Terranova Collective, Teatro del Pueblo, Theatre for the New City, New York Theatre Workshop, Pangea and The Public Theatre. He has been recipient of Pregones’ Theatre Asunción Prize, the International Casa del Teatro Theatre Award (Dominican Republic), Jerome and McKnight Fellowships from the Playwrights´ Center and a Joyce award. He directs Casa Cruz de la Luna, a multidisciplinary project based in an old house in San Germán, Puerto Rico. This year, he is happy to join the University of Puerto Rico’s Interdisciplinary Program teaching theatre, performance and technology. Website: contact:

  • Awilda Rodriguez Lora

    Thank you Director, Mentor, Friend, Actor, Performer and Lover of the art of Performance and Theater. Gracias…Aravind!

  • jesus miranda

    Querido Aravind: Gracias por todo fue una experiencia maravillosa la cual atesoro. Bendiciones y exito siempre. Un abrazo. Pito :)

  • Deborah Hunt

    Gracias Aravind por tu mirada excepcional….