Embrace Work From Other Cultures

by Catherine Coray

in Global Citizenship

Post image for Embrace Work From Other Cultures

(Photo of Nic Billon and Lisa Peterson. This post is part of the Canadian theatre salon curated by Chantal Bilodeau for the World Theatre Day 2014/Crossing Borders salon series.)

CHANTAL BILODEAU: The hotINK Festival has had a long and varied life. Can you describe its various incarnations and explain where it is going next?

CATHERINE CORAY: hotINK began in 2002 as a festival readings of twenty new American plays that took place at the NYU Tisch School of the Arts.  The festival gave students the opportunity to work with professional actors and directors, reading age-appropriate roles, and interfacing with a range of playwrights, such as Jeffrey Hatcher, Arthur Kopit, Jordan Seavey, Ain Gordon, Caridad Svich, Migdalia Cruz, Rinne Groff, Eduardo Machado, Anna Ziegler and Greg Kalleres. In 2006, hotINK became an international event, and, still at the Tisch School of the Arts, presented about ten plays by U.S.-based writers and ten plays from other parts of the world, which gave the American playwrights a chance to meet and speak – and in the case of some, like Sam Hunter and Romanian author Peca Ştefan – to collaborate with each other.  In 2011, hotINK moved to the Lark Play Development Center and since then has focused entirely on work from abroad (given that the Lark has so many other programs aimed at supporting and presenting U.S. writers) and, over three years, included work from Latvia, Bulgaria, Belarus, The Netherlands, Belgium, Ireland, India, Singapore, Canada, Uganda and France, among other countries.

Our focus for 2014 and next year will be specifically on new translations of plays. To that end, we are bringing three teams of playwrights – from Mexico, France and Austria – and translators, for a one-week residency to refine the new translations, and work with directors and actors to present public readings of the plays. The scripts were selected in collaboration with the translators, whom we approached first: we wanted to know which writers they were most excited to work with.  In addition, we are putting together a panel on translation, in collaboration with the PEN American Center, that we hope will illuminate some of the joys and challenges of theatrical translation. For hotINK 2016, we plan to return to an open submission process, so that we can get to know more playwrights from around the world…

CB: What is transformative, both for artists and audiences, about getting an opportunity to cross borders, whether literal or metaphorical?

CC: For me, hotINK, though centered around the selected plays, has always been about the people –the playwrights from far-flung parts of the world who would most likely not otherwise meet; the audiences who hear stories from cultures they’d never encountered; the collaborations that are begun when a playwright from abroad and a NY-based playwright fall in love with each other’s work and begin a creative relationship. Not to mention the heated post-reading discussions when the play touches on controversial subjects!

CB: What Canadian plays have you presented over the years that stand out as being memorable?

CC: hotINK has featured work by many outstanding Canadian writers, including Carole Fréchette, Geneviève Billette, Michael Mackenzie, Daniel Karasik, Mieko Ouchi, Suzie Bastien and Wajdi Mouawad. From recent festivals, I’d mention the plays we presented by two writers I admire tremendously: Elmar Maripuu and Nic Billon.  Elmar’s haunting play Forever was beautifully directed by Ian Morgan (of The New Group) in 2011, and read by a cast led by Heidi Schreck and Michael Cerveris.  The first play by Nic Billon that we presented in 2008, The Elephant Song, is currently being made into a feature film (starring Catherine Keener and Bruce Greenwood), and the second, Iphigenia At Aulis (2013), was directed by Lisa Peterson and read by Peter Francis James and Florencia Lozano – gorgeous.

CB: Is there a Canadian aesthetic? If so, how would you describe it?

CC: To me, the “Canadian aesthetic” is so diverse. I wouldn’t know where to begin describing it. There are so many factors that seem to influence Canadian playwrights, from language and cultures of origin to geography: plays from Québec seem very different from plays from the prairies, which are vastly different from plays from Nova Scotia and the maritime provinces in style and story.

CB: What are the challenges in presenting Canadian plays to American audiences?

CC: Most Americans seem blissfully unaware that there is such a diverse and vibrant Canadian playwriting tradition, so it’s fun to introduce work from both English and French-speaking Canada and open the audience’s awareness to work from up north through hotINK at the Lark.  I think the challenges to presenting Canadian plays lay in getting the plays fully produced – but there is often resistance to producing any work from abroad (especially plays in translation.)  Artistic directors say, repeatedly, that their audiences won’t come to see “foreign” work, and U.S. playwrights sometimes question giving that production opportunity to a writer from another country, when so many of our own playwrights are underproduced. I understand the concerns, but feel, deeply, that if we are to be part of the larger, international theater conversation, we need to embrace – or, at least, expose ourselves to – work from other cultures.

Catherine CorayCatherine 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 New York audiences to new plays from over 50 countries. She is on the faculty of NYU’s Experimental Theatre Wing and teaches and collaborates with artists in countries such as Austria, Belarus, Chile, Cuba, Lebanon and Egypt. She teaches each fall at NYU in Abu Dhabi and recently co-curated, with Syrian director Naila Al Atrash, a convening of Middle-Eastern Women in Theater at the NYU Abu Dhabi Institute in NYC, that brought together theater makers and thinkers from nine North African, Eastern Mediterranean and Gulf countries with U.S.- based artists of Middle Eastern origin for two days of performance, discussion and debate.

Chantal Bilodeau is a New York-based playwright and translator originally from Montreal. She also serves as the Artistic Director of The Arctic Cycle – an organization created to support the writing, development and production of eight plays that examine the impact of climate change on the eight countries of the Arctic. Recent awards include the 2014 Woodward International Playwriting Prize as well as First Prize in the 2012 Earth Matters on Stage Ecodrama Festival and the 2011 Uprising National Playwriting Competition. She is the recipient of a Jerome Travel & Study Grant and a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship. www.cbilodeau.com