PREVIOUSLY BLUE: devising the salvage of beauty

by Ruth Margraff

in Global Connections

Post image for PREVIOUSLY BLUE: devising the salvage of beauty

“I look for something to chase away the fire, storms, to lose the scent of danger… I stay with the fear a long time.  To keep it from following you…”

One night in Belgrade, Faye told me a deer once looked into her eyes to thank her for distracting wild dogs in the woods behind her house. As I wrote from that in rehearsal, Nikos brought in a fallen branch, bottlecaps and bottles from the dirt around the Kalemegdan fortress. Over the summer, Nikos made percussive fans out of cans and bottlecaps marked with colors as a way of meditating on organic and manmade things we throw away.

In Chicago, I found another branch blown along the bird and butterfly sanctuary of Lake Michigan’s Montrose pier.  I used these as props in November to distill the memory of an earthquake for my character. When we got to Atlanta, we did a videoshoot outdoors and found a third branch tipped over in the soft ground that Nesa later painted.  Each of the three branches from our home cities made me think about devising as a way of finding beauty in what is worn and wasted.

As our world considers the trash of ravaged packaging, I think about the materiality of language for the stage.  Most realistic plays produce ready-made “fast food” dialogue for instant gratification and entertainment.  While perhaps the language of devising could be seen as raw, unprocessed and hand-grown from the more poetic debris of trauma, passion and duration.

As America finds new profit in repurposing, upcycling and rehab—mainstream theater has come, also, to value devising as fertile compost for performance.

PREVIOUSLY BLUE open rehearsal Dec 6 and 13, 2014 (7 Stages, Atlanta and Art Institute of Chicago Ballroom) from Ruth Margraff / Cafe Antarsia on Vimeo.

PREVIOUSLY BLUE, a poetic summit on the mystery of disaster, resilience and beauty, is a capstone project of sustained devising techniques that have influenced artists all over the world.  Created by director Dijana Milosevic, designer Nesa Paripovic, performer Maja Vujovic from Dah Teatar (Belgrade, Serbia); performers Del Hamilton and Faye Allen from 7 Stages (Atlanta, USA); writer/performer Ruth Margraff and composer/musician Nikos Brisco of the independent Café Antarsia Ensemble (Chicago, USA) —we want to connect the agility of nature to our work and life. We wonder if art can be nourished by the kind of integrity that emerges from disaster in the interests of common good.

When I first saw Dah Teatar’s work in 1996 in Austin, Texas, something shifted in my soul.  I was influenced by how Dah was creating on “the edge of balance” a response to the horror of civil war in the former Yugoslavia. In 2001, when I went to visit my mom in Sarajevo where she was stationed by the United Nations as a peacekeeper, I traveled to Belgrade to see Maps of Forbidden Remembrance, Dah’s collaboration with 7Stages and to perform Judges 19: Black Lung Exhaling at the Bitef Festival. Our collaborations such as Alice and Kafka are Dead /Long Live the Rosenbergs and Story of Tea prepared us for sudden crisis in any direction. A generation later, we find ourselves drawn to stability, surprise and delight to renew the generosity of our practice. We met in Belgrade in January with the support of a Trust for Mutual Understanding grant and presented open rehearsals on Dec 6, 2014 in the Art Institute Ballroom, Chicago and Dec 13, 2014 at 7Stages in Atlanta with the support of a 2014 Theater Communications Group Global Connections award. Our research so far includes Rebecca Solnitʼs Paradise Built in Hell, Leszek Kolakowskiʼs Conversations with the Devil, peacebuilding and water, and the craze for a color which once ruled the world.  Songlines of water and skies (that were previously blue) transcend our everyday distractions.  We seek abundance and reflection in moments of presence, no matter how small.


Ruth Margaff has been called a leader in America’s operatic avant garde, best known in the US for her collaborations with the late composer Fred Ho with whom she wrote six martial arts operas for the Apollo, Guggenheim Museum, Brooklyn Academy of Music, LaMama and several national tours, Ruth’s “Night Wind from Afghanistan” for the play SEVEN are touring all over the world, introduced in 2010 by Hillary Clinton featuring Meryl Streep at the Broadway Hudson Theater (NYC). She has received awards from Rockefeller, McKnight, Jerome, NEA, TCG, TMUNY, NYSCA, IAC, Fulbright foundations, published by Dramatists Play Service, American Theatre, Theater Forum, Performing Arts Journal, Playscripts, Inc., Backstage Books, Autonomedia, New Village Press, Innova RecordsNoPassport Press.  Recent work includes her LOCKET ARIAS with Nautilus’ Rough Cut Opera series April 2015 (Minneapolis); FLEUR DE LYS for the Stockyards Ballroom/Great Plains Theater May 2015 (Omaha), THE ELEKTRA FUGUES 2014 Varna International Theater Festival/City Art Gallery with Peculiar Works Project (Bulgaria); WILD RICE for Peggy Choy at UW/Native Nations Summit Fluno Center (Madison), ANNE UNDER PARIS SKIES Dec 11-20, 2014 for Jason Phelps’ Feast of My Heart at Salvage Vanguard Theater (Austin) and ALL OF THIS for a 2014 US/Russia playwrights’ exchange curated by Ksenia Dragunskaya at Boyarskiye Palaty (Russia).  She’s been a New Dramatist, a Chicago Dramatist, member of LPTW and Theater Without Borders and is Associate Professor/Chair of Writing at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.


The Global Connections program was designed by TCG and is funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Learn more here.