Art, Action, Resistance and a Bit of Play

by Caridad Svich

in Artistry & Artistic Innovation

Post image for Art, Action, Resistance and a Bit of Play

(Photo from the Repertorio Español premiere of Caridad Svich’s In the time of the butterflies/En el tiempo de las mariposasCaridad’s play Archipelago is part of the 30/30 US Latin@/NoPassport reading scheme. This post was originally shared on the NoPassport blog. After you read the interview, sign up to participate in the 30/30 US Latin@/NoPassport reading scheme!)

ELAINE AVILA: What is 30/30 and why did you develop it?

CARIDAD SVICH: 30/30 is a national reading scheme initiated by NoPassport theatre alliance and press in partnership with producer Dominic D’Andrea (of One Minute Play Festival) to showcase the breadth and depth of some of the terrific US Latina/o writing for live performance that exists in American theatre. Really only the tip of the iceberg of voices that need to be heard and seen on our stages. It is a scheme that offers 30 plus plays to venues nation-wide between October 2013 and May 2014 to host script in hand readings at venues, be they theatre, colleges, living rooms, etc – and allow venues and artists to collaborate with other venues and practitioners in their city and region, as well as across the US. So, it is in principle a scheme centered in artist advocacy, getting some new works out there in the world, and perhaps stirring up a dialogue about what is and what can be US Latina/o theatre – if we think horizontally instead of vertically about programming, showcasing new work, and thinking too cross-generationally about the depth of our writing voices.

EA: 30/30 has already begun, starting with Teatro Paraguas/Daniel Banks in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Can you describe how theatre artists, theatre companies, institutions can get involved?

CS: Companies, artists, students and more can get involved simply by checking out our webpage at http://www.nopassport.org/3030-us-latinao-theatrenopassport-reading-scheme and reaching out to either Dominic or myself at twitter hashtag #3030NP or at the email 30playsin30days@gmail.com

EA: It was recently suggested on Facebook that 30/30 be sent to theatres that continue to program seasons without any Latin@ writers. Is this how you originally imagined 30/30 might work? Has there been any surprises in how people implement this dream?

CS: Actually I did not imagine that this is how it might work. Honestly, for me it’s about advocacy and awareness of new writing, especially from US Latina/o artists. I still think, despite the fact that some work does get produced, it is few and far between compared to the wealth of work that is being created and how remarkably diverse it is in terms of aesthetics, form, and content. I still think there is a very narrow definition of how the industry perceives US Latina/o work, let alone ‘Latinidad.’ Anything we can do, by making, producing, generating theatre actions – I think helps change/upend, even a little bit, limited definition(s).

EA: I love the diversity in subject matter and style in 30/30. This does a great job of expanding the definition of a Latin@ play. What are your thoughts on expanding definitions and arbitrary distinctions?

CS: Well, I think the question always is: what is a play? Period. Who gets to define that and why? I think a play is an event in space. Irregardless of whether it is linear, nonlinear, realistic, abstract, surrealist, etc. There is the human figure – or a hologram or a puppet or a robot (depending on the kind of piece you are making and sharing with the world) and space and time, and an event occurs, and we call it performance or theatre. Definitions of what is a US Latin@ play have accrued over time and there are categories of work historically that are aligned sometimes with socio-political and/or aesthetic movements: la Raza movement, the spoken word scene, Off-off-Broadway movement and its birth, and more. Expectations have emerged about what is a US Latin@ play and usually they have to do from a very narrow perspective, I think, with either “urban” themes and vernacular, border (US Mexico particularly) plays and “magic realism.” But of course, there is such a wide range of work being made and artists of Latina/o background (or born in Latin America but residing in the US) approach the page and stage in multiple ways. I think distinctions placed arbitrarily on works of art can be damaging to understanding what the art is and can be. The more definitions can be expanded and in effect, I would argue, stripped away – define the work on its own terms, meet it for what it is – the healthier an arts ecology we will have in this country.

EA: You discussed how you see your dual role as playwright and leader when I interviewed you for this article. Part of your dual role involves operating NoPassport press and developing what you call “schemes.” I’ve noticed that your schemes began with you as the sole playwright (The Way of Water, Spark) and now include many writers (24 Gun Control Plays, 30/30). Can you talk about this shift? Why have you made the models so inclusive? How has this affected you?

CS: Actually, the first schemes I initiated before NoPassport theatre alliance and press was even a concept were multi-writer schemes. In 1999-2000 I initiated, edited and curated and co-authored a collaboration called SAINTS, SINNERS AND IN BETWEEN which involved the creation of a performance text with 15-plus playwrights from across the country, which we wrote via email together and then reading of the piece were held in various cities and at the Los Angeles RAT conference. After that project there was one called RETURN TO THE UPRIGHT POSITION, which was also written via email six months after 9/11 with 12plus playwrights from across the US. This performance piece was then read at various venues on the first anniversary of 9/11 and has had other stagings since then at colleges. In between there were multi-author projects on the Iraq War and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina conducted with student playwrights and professional dramatists. I do think of these projects as very much part of what re-stirred me to initiate schemes with NoPassport. I started with THE WAY OF WATER because I wanted to make myself the guinea pig, as it were, for this new incarnation of multi-platform, horizontal theatre action, because I felt that if for some reason it did not take off, then it’d be only my butt on the line and not those of multiple colleagues. The fact that THE WAY OF WATER scheme went international and generated such momentum in the 2nd anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon BP oil spill disaster with fifty readings around the world and features on local NPR stations, and articles in the Huff Post, American Theatre and more was staggering to me. I thought: okay, was this just some fluke? Some case of serendipity? So, I put myself on the line again with SPARK in November of 2012. Almost as a dare to myself as an artist, and also because I very much wanted to be part of a larger conversation about the fate of women coming back home from serving in war and how families cope with aftermath on the homefront. Thirty plus readings occurred across the US and abroad in about a month’s time, much to my astonishment, after placing the initial open call. I was emboldened by these two experiences to then “test out” collective theatre action/consortium ideas with more writers, which is how Gun Control Theatre Action and 24 Gun Control Plays began in January 2013. In a sense, GCTA brings me back to the first projects in 2000 and 2001 in the spirit of collective creation, community building and perhaps trying to generate new ways of changing what has become, in many cases, “business as usual” for certain kinds of theatremaking in this country.

Mariposas-3

(Photo from the 2012 Uruguay premiere of Caridad Svich’s In the time of the butterflies/En el tiempo de las mariposas.)

EA: You recently participated in the largest gathering of Latina/o theatre artists since 1986 at Emerson College in Boston. How did being at this gathering affect you? As an instigator of the NoPassport Convenings, you recognize the power of this kind of coming together. Was this gathering different somehow?

CS: It was fascinating to be part of the Latino Theatre Commons Convening in Boston and I was honored to be invited to be part of it. It was, as always, great to be in the same physical space with terrific artists and get to jam on ideas. The focus of the convening was very much about US Latin@ theatre within the wider US theatre landscape. I have always considered NoPassport’s mission to be, well, less identity-driven. One of our conferences focused on US Latin@ theatre and there is a strong and vital component of NoPassport that is devoted to the advocacy, publication and production of US Latin@ theatre/performance, but I do not see it as our only focus. So, for me, that was an essential difference between the convening in Boston – beautiful and focused as it was – and NOPE’s mission overall.

EA: In your article, you mention that two questions loomed large at this National Convening: “Where will US Latina/o theatre-makers be in 30 years? What will 2046 look like?”

You call for us to create vision for the immediate. I began to recognize the limitations of these two questions, how they strike me as “corporate,” and something individuals who run theatres, various institutions and universities might also be facing. In your TCG National Conference address on Artistic Innovation last year, you also call for an immediate and achievable response, like allowing for a single slot in a season that can be responsive and open. I love this idea of the immediate response, no matter how big or small. Can you discuss this a bit for the 30/30 participants? How can they make the next step?

CS: I definitely think none of us know where we will be in 30 years, let alone what the field will look like. I do think replicating “business as usual” is a dead end. Art making has always been about challenging the status quo. It is easy to forget especially in a late capitalist, consumerist, surveillance-driven culture, but I think we have to do everything we can to challenge the ease of slipping into language and practices that pretend the machines we have created and with which we are complicit are functioning in perfect order and that, you know, for example, it’s okay if every new play gets three weeks or less of rehearsal for a premiere production and that actors jobbed into a process can become a company overnight. That’s b.s. And we all know it. Deep down. And yes, miracles sometimes happen but really…. Really… what is the deep practice of this cultural work that we do? That is the crucial question. Another response I think is immediate actions – fast n dirty theatremaking – that is about bucking systems on place. The system that has allowed cultural gatekeepers to generate dividing lines between the work, the artist and the communities the work could engage with and in, and also has affected best practices.

EA: I feel a great affinity with you because your work as a playwright is so diverse—inspired by classics, contemporary issues, music, and the personal. We, as playwrights, are sometimes asked to make ourselves a ‘brand’ in order to make our work legible to theatres. How do you negotiate this?

CS: I don’t think of myself as a brand. But I know that in a market driven culture, we are asked to negotiate this all the time. Writing is freedom. The imagination can go anywhere. As soon as you place limits on it and what art you can make or not censorship sets in. Some people only know my work as someone who reconfigures and/or responds to classic playtexts or novels. Some only know me as a translator. Others perhaps as writer of plays that operate within the realm of hybridity and syncretic aesthetic. Some only know me as editor or essayist. I always feel as if I am renegotiating my creative identities depending on who my audience, perceived or not, may be.

EA: Sometimes theatres, in the process of either building a relationship with us and/or clarifying a rejection (hard to tell the difference sometimes), will make comments. These comments can be frustrating and hurtful—sometimes revealing limiting beliefs about race, gender, and theatre. Do you think we can we turn these conversations into creative opportunities? Or do you think it is a matter of learning, ‘this is not the home for my work?” Do you have any stories of turning this around?

CS: Well, there was one theatre that shall remain nameless that had sent me a rejection letter for a play and then six months called me up saying they had found my play and wanted to produce it on the spot. So, the letter that was sent from one desk in that theatre’s office didn’t make it to somebody else’s desk, and that other somebody somehow still had the play in their hands, and fell in love with it. I always think about that, because it was a real lesson – a strange one- about how weird this business is. You just never know. Some theatres will work with you and you feel at home and then you realize that the home was merely temporary. Other theatres actually say “this is your home.” Others just want a “product.” I think irregardless you have to find the will and fire within yourself to keep making the work somehow. Sometimes that means finding your own tribe, which may be a nomadic one.

EA: Advice for anyone starting their own schemes?

CS: Make lists, keep your files in order, follow up on everyone and everything and never give up!

EA: What is next for you as a writer? What are you working on, dreaming of working on next?

CS: I am working on seven different projects. One of which is a series of plays that explores modernity and language and the self. Another is inspired by the work of Derek Jarman (producing collaborator is force/collision in D.C.) and another is focused on gaming, time travel, and holodeck narratives. And another is just a naughty play.


Elaine Avila’s award winning plays are performed in Central America (National Theatre of Panamá, Teatro Lagartija); Canada, (Canadian Centre for Theatre Creation, Theatre SKAM); New York (Ontological-Hysteric Theatre, Hybrid Theatre Works, Occupy the Empty Space); the U.S.; France; and London, England. Publications: NoPassport Press (Jane Austen Action Figure and other Plays, in 24 Gun Control Plays edited by Caridad Svich and Zac Kline), Canadian Theatre Review, Howlround, American Theater, Contemporary Theatre Review, Lusitania. She is a Playwrights Theatre Centre Associate and was recently distinguished as a Notáveis dos Açores for her theatre work by the Government of the Azores, Portugal. ElaineAvila.com.


Caridad Svich received a 2012 OBIE Award for Lifetime Achievement in the theatre, a 2012 Edgerton Foundation New Play Award for GUAPA, and the 2011 American Theatre Critics Association Primus Prize for her play The House of the Spirits, based on the Isabel Allende novel. She has edited several books on theatre including Out of Silence (Eyecorner Press), Trans-Global Readings and Theatre in Crisis? (both for Manchester University Press) Divine Fire (BackStage Books), Out of the Fringe (TCG), and Conducting a Life: Reflections on the Theatre of Maria Irene Fornes (Smith & Kraus). caridadsvich.com