Wednesday, July 22, 2015

I Interview Playwrights Part 765: Nehprii Amenii



Photo by Steven Hass

Nehprii Amenii

Hometown: Augusta, Georgia

Current Town: Brooklyn, New York

Q:  Tell me about the Women Playwrights International Conference.

A:  The Women Playwrights International Conference is an event that happens every 3 years. Each year it’s hosted in a different country, from Switzerland, Mumbai, and Philippines. This year it was held at the University of Capetown in South Africa. Women playwrights from around the world submit scripts in hopes of begin able to share their work with an international audience. A local director and cast are assigned to work with each script. In addition to the staged readings, there are daily keynote speakers, panel discussions, writing workshops, and evening performances. This years conference, was scheduled to coincide with the Grahmstown Arts Festival, which is the largest theatre festival on the African continent, so participants were really inundated with inspiration. It was an honor to share the stage with playwrights from around the world such as Talia Pura of Canada, Fatima Uygun of Scottland, The Gurilla Girls, Herlina Syarifuding of Indonesia, Mumbii Kaigway of Kenya, and more…

Q:  Tell me about your work that was selected for the conference.

A:  My selected play is titled “Food for the Gods” It’s a play about light and invisibility , inspired by the killings of black men by police, and other systems of authority. Food for the Gods is an experiential triptych or sort; a multi-media performance installation, where the audience physically moves through three unique spaces and emotions. It uses mixed-media and mask-puppetry to explore the process of dehumanization, positive and negative space. At the WPI conference, I was honored to work with director Megan Furniss who was able to create a powerful staging of a pretty complex script. There’s a trailer here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gYpj3NFtcuI

Q:  What else are you working on now?

A:  I’m working on two projects at the moment: I’m directing a piece by Scott Patterson entitled “Ebon Kojo” for the Charm City Fringe in Baltimore. He is a classically trained pianist, inspired by Sun Ra, interested in exploring ways to turn traditional piano concerts into theatrical events. He’s written a one man sci-fi musical. I think it’s gonna be pretty funky. Simultaneously, I’m “building” a solo performance of my own. I’m forever, exploring ways of merging my worlds as a writer, performer and visual artist. So, I have an exhibit opening September 17th at the Renate Albertsen-Marton Gallery, here in Brooklyn. It is very much inspired by the self portrait installations of Jee Young Lee and museum performances of Theaster Gates. The installation will stand as an independent exhibit of words and images with regularly scheduled performances. I’m excited to work again with an amazing director, Martin Balmaceda who has grown to be one of my favorite comrades and people. (I haven’t settled on a title yet, “Analog” or “The Seed Project” I’m sure the curator will force it from me soon.) It is a personal exploration of my own identity beyond the boundaries of social classifications, race, culture and responsibility to it.

“There is a woman’s body standing solo on a hillside. She is constructed of plywood. Particle board. The stuff of speakers boxes. With black coating.

Spheres. Amplified sound givers make up her limbs. Her belly. Her breast. Her finger tips are turntable needs. Her mind is a flat. Metal. rectangle. A circuit board. It is her that is programed. It is her that must give voice back to the people.

But She is injured. A mess of wires hang from a gashed open voice box. And copper tips have begun to exposed themselves from her black coating. And they catch moments of the light. She could be kin to the fireflies.”


Q:  Tell me, if you will, a story from your childhood that explains who you are as a writer or as a person.

A:  Great question. Ummm… Mud pies. I remember, I was the best at them. My friends would make a mud pie what would last for just moments before crumbling. But mine would last for days… weeks even, and stay perfectly round and smooth. I was in Georgia, where the dirt is red. And I remember at 4 years old, trying to explain to my friends “you have to dig really deep until you get to the sticky dirt!” well, later I realized, I had discovered clay. (Interesting that also became my first fine arts medium.) And, I guess, that experience is not different with my writing or who I am. I try to dig really deep down into myself… where things get pretty sticky…and honest. And from that place, I try to pull up the dirt and turn it into something smooth, refined—beautiful..…and something that can have long lasting impact…. Hahah, there it is. It’s all just Mud pies!

Q:  If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?

A:  I’d change how dependent it has become on technology. Perhaps it’s my overall puppetry and street theatre background, But, I’ve been a part of powerful performances that needed so little. Where the humans are the instruments, hand held lighting, and images created by the hands. I think of theater in Bali, where performances are made by the light of oil lanterns, banana stalks, and humans. And it will sound contradictory, because I too love the big shebang and glam of large performance spectacles! But it feels like the difference between the current action packed movies vs. the deep build of the old black and white films. Simplicity is grand and difficult to achieve. I often joke whenever doing a load in for a show, that I’m gonna create a theatre company called “Theatre in the Bush!” because when traditional theatre was happening in the bushlands of South Africa, or when the theatre of Aeschylus was being performed on rounded dirt floors of Greece…I just don’t think there was all of the hoopla of cables and electricity! I think the writing and the story should be the most beautiful and electrical thing present.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  Two of my favorite directors are Julie Taymor and Zhang Yimou, for their imagination and keen ability to create BEAUTY. Paul Robinson, for using art for political impact. Zora Neal Hurston’s ability to translate her work as an anthropologist into theatre. Her work as a playwright is not so highlighted, however, she was writing these creative, humorous, rhythmic plays steeped in folklore and science! I’m inspired by Dan Hurlin, as a multi disciplined artist, that has carved a niche for himself in the theatre world that incorporates all his art forms as visual artist, writer, director, puppeteer, and dancer. Erik Ehn, who totally shatters the form and restraints of how a play lands on the paper. Alvin Ailey--- who wrote and created powerful theatre via dance. I’m inspired by theatre artists that push and blur the compartment of this thing called “theatre.”

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  Ritual theatre. Processional Theatre. Experimental Theatre. Theatre that is immersive. Theatre that has substance and meaning. Theatre that is heavily visual. Theatre that takes place in unexpected places. (I’m a sucker for flashmobs.) I don’t tend to be moved by naturalistic theatre; However, I am moved by intelligence. So, writing such as “Freud's Last Session” by Mark St. Germain, that was staged as simply two men having a conversation in an office, to me, it was exciting and steeped with audience participation. Participation via the mind and so much engaging thought.

Q:  How do you imagine ultimately using your voice as a writer?

A:  One of the most exciting pieces of theatre I’ve seen to date is the 2008 Bejing Opening Olympic Ceremony. Ultimately, I would like to write and create such an anthropological storytelling spectacle that inspires the hearts of a global audience. ( I’ll need a lot of electricity for that! )

Q:  What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?

A:  Write a play a day. It’s good practice for self-acceptance.

As my playwriting coach and teacher Cassandra Medley told me, when I felt my work was too visual and lacked proper dialog “Take what you deem as your limitations as a playwright—and embrace them your unique style as a playwright.”

And submit, submit submit.

Q:  Plugs Please:

A:  Curing the Void - FringeNYC - The New York International Fringe Festival Saturday, August 22, 2015 from 12:00 PM to 1:20 PM (EDT) New York, NY

Luyanda Sidiya’s SIVA (seven) see it wherever you can!

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