Sep 27, 2009
I Interview Playwrights Part 61: Caridad Svich
Hometown: Philadelphia, PA
Current Towns: New York City and Los Angeles
Q: What are you working on now?
A: new play commission from NYU's Graduate Acting Program and Mark Wing-Davey (Chair) entitled RIFT. The piece goes up Dec 2-6, 2009 at Tisch Shubert Theatre directed by Seret Scott. Performances are open to the public and tix will be sold on smarttix.com RIFT is an epic story about lives torn by war and its aftermath, by abuse and damage, profit and trade, and the intimate search for beauty and grace. Gender, border, and culturally crossed, RIFT explores the fate of the human animal in a dislocated world and asks the question: how can a body that is torn find a way to heal itself and transform, and thus resist the tyranny of power? It's a violent, erotic, dream-like fable.
Q: Can you tell me a little about No Passport?
A: NoPassport is a Pan-American theatre/performance/media alliance and press, which I founded in 2003. The alliance is devoted to action, advocacy and change toward the fostering of cross-cultural diversity and difference in the arts with an emphasis on the embrace of the hemispheric spirit in US Latina/o and Latin-American theatre-making. NoPassport exists a virtual and live forum for the exchange of work and dreams, a live network between theatres and the academy, and a mobile band of playwrights, directors, actors, producers and musicians. The mentoring of younger artists is also a key component of NOPE's (as we playfully call ourselves) mission. NoPassport Press is a division of NoPassport that aims to bring new, challenging playscripts, translations, essays and theatre criticism to the field. Among the works we've published so far: collections from John Jesurun, Amparo Garcia-Crow, Anne Garcia-Romero, Matthew Maguire, Oliver Mayer, Alejandro Morales, single edition text of Antigone Project by Lynn Nottage, Karen Hartman, Tanya Barfield, Chiori Miyagawa and myself. The texts are published print-on-demand and are available from amazon.com and the like. For queries: NoPassportPress@aol.com
Q: Can you tell me about your translating work? What sort of challenges are inherent in translating someone else's work?
A: I've translated nearly all of Federico Garcia Lorca's plays and some of his poems as well as works by Julio Cortazar, Calderon de la Barca, Lope de Vega, Maria Zayas Sotomayor and contemporary plays from Mexico, Cuba, and Spain. I've also adapted for US English a Serbian play entitled Huddersfield. Translation is a parallel career and a huge part of my creative life. There are many, many challenges to the art and craft of translation, chief among them the kind of intense cross-cultural work involved linguistically and theatrically. Translations are also temporal acts. You translate it for the audience of today, but who knows how the audience of 50 years from now will respond? It's always a gamble and each decision about word choice is fraught with myriad possibilities. Ultimately you are as respectful and as in the moment with the work as you can be, but it's really a neverending process, if you let it be!
Q: You also are a frequent editor of books and journals. How did you get drawn to this type of work?
A: I've edited Divine Fire: Eight Contemporary Plays Inspired by the Greeks (BackStage Books) and Trans-Global Readings: Crossing Theatrical Boundaries (Manchester University Press). I've co-edited Out of the Fringe: Contemporary Latina/o Theatre and Performance (TCG), Theatre in Crisis? (Manchester University Press), Conducting a Life: Reflections on the Theatre of Maria Irene Fornes (Smith & Kraus), and Popular Forms for a Radical Theatre (special issue of Contemporary Theatre Review, Routledge, UK). I'm contributing editor of the international journal TheatreForum, associate editor of Contemporary Theatre Review, and founding editor of NoPassport Press. Right now I'm in midst of editing the collection Out of Silence for Manchester University Press, which should be in print late 2010, if all goes well. I was drawn to this type of work because it allows me to sustain a different kind of creative conversation with scholars and practitioners; it also allows me to advocate for the works of emerging scholars and the publication of not as well represented voices for theatre and performance in a very pro-active way. I love words in print and I love critical exchange, and my work as editor really lets me move between the arts and the academy in a manner that is spiritually rewarding. It also is the kind of work that really makes me focus on the layout of text, how pages are marked and makes me think about language and form in a way that I find vital and challenging.
Q: Can you tell me a story from your childhood that explains who you are as a writer or as a person?
A: Hmmm...well, my mom has saved all the tracings I used to do as a child. I loved books and stories so much that I'd actually the illustrations (of children's books) onto paper and then invent my new stories to these illustrations and write them down! Even when I was five years old, I was re-making texts!
Q: Many of your plays have songs in them. Chuck Mee said, and I hope I'm getting it right, that if you don't have a song in the first half hour of a play, you can't have a songs in that play. In other words you should let the audience know early on that there will be music in the play or otherwise it will be jarring. I recently ignored this when writing a play, perhaps to my own detriment. Do you have any rules self-imposed or otherwise about how you put songs into your plays?
A: I love songs, and how they can function in a text - as commentary, window into an emotional moment, setting a scene, etc. I love the human voice lifted in time and space. When I write I always leave the possibility of song open in the work. If a song appears, I let it. If it doesn't, then I know it's going to be the kind of play and play-world that doesn't allow for that kind of 'lift.' Sometimes I start with song forms in mind when I write. Alchemy of Desire/Dead-Man's Blues began as a play where I wanted to work with the blues form. Fugitive Pieces and Thrush both began with my interest in folk songs and alt-country. 12 Ophelias began in part with my love of bluegrass and the high lonesome sound. Iphigenia...a rave fable began with my interest in techno, trance and house music and sampling. Lulu Ascending deals in part with cabaret and torch song genre. Prodigal Kiss was written with the Cuban bolero a and guaguanco in mind. The Booth Variations was written in part to work with the symphonic form. There are so many ways to work with songs in the theatre, esp in plays with songs. In The House of the Spirits, I knew pretty early on that songs connected to ceremony would be part of the play (wedding, harvest time) but also lullabies the women in the play sing to their children. In terms of rules, I think letting the audience know early on that there will be live music or at very least live vocalization is important, even if it's through the sound-scape of the play. But I've sometimes broken the earlier is better rule, and decided to surprise the audience with a song late in the play. Ultimately I think what's important is the songs feel organic to the overall vocabulary of the play you're making!
Q: What kind of theater excites you?
A: Work that surprises me, that re-awakens me to form and/or content, that challenges expectations of all kinds. My taste is pretty eclectic and egalitarian. I don't privilege uptown over downtown or vice versa. I hate categories. For me, witnessing a piece of theatre/live performance is about deep human engagement - whether it be intellectual, emotional, spiritual or all three. I'm always looking for work that will make me see things differently.
Q: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out.
A: Write, write, and write, and then rewrite, and rewrite. Plays are strange beasts. Writing for the theatre is a humbling profession. The work is always being tested and judged. Every night. Don't settle. Stay true to your vision. But also listen, deeply, to the world around you and to what the people you trust have to say. Be open to the beauty of an invitation to make work.
Q: Any plugs?
A: The House of the Spirits, based on the novel by Isabel Allende, continues at Main Street Theater in Houston, Texas until October 11, 2009 (www.mainstreettheater.com); it also continues in open run repertory in its Spanish-language version at Repertorio Espanol/Spanish Repertory in New York City under Jose Zayas' direction through the 2009-2010 season (www.repertorio.org). 12 Ophelias (a play with broken songs) continues at Trap Door Theatre in Chicago, Illinois until October 31st, 2009(www.trapdoortheatre.com). My new play Rift runs December 2-9, 2009 at Tisch School of the Arts Grad Acting, 5th Floor. (www.smarttix.com) The next NoPassport theatre conference is February 26-27, 2010 at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe and related venues. Save the dates! In print: "American Playwrights on Language and War in Iraq: A NoPassport (theatre alliance) Virtual Roundtable" with David Adjmi, Christine Evans, Charlotte Meehan, Lisa Schlesinger, Christopher Shinn, and Naomi Wallace, Moderated by Caridad Svich in Theater Vol. 39, No. 3, published by Yale School of Drama/Yale Repertory Theatre.