Toward a Visible Theatre by Caridad Svich

cardad svich(Generation Without Borders is an essay series created by TCG for the 50th Anniversary of World Theatre Day. )

How does one write a life? Where does the will to intervene socially and politically in culture begin? Certainly, not every playwright’s path is marked by an activist intent. Some writers choose what may be deemed a “more quiet, interior” position in the field. Others may choose to use the work itself as a vehicle to exhort and proclaim their beliefs. Others still may simply choose to amuse, to create divertissements to comfort and/or soothe their public. There are many roads, in other words, to a writer’s life. The first job of a writer, however, is to notice, to observe the world, to train the eye to really see and record, and sometimes to see what isn’t there but could be. As a playwright, my path so far has been marked by a daily practice of seeing that has expanded in its global outlook over the years.

At first, writing was enchantment, a spell of words to fall into and in which to seek refuge. Writing, thus, was initially for me a retreat from the world. Part of the retreat had to do as much with being a child of immigrants as it did with wanting to create an alternative universe where ready-made constructions of identity and language were much more fluid and open. As I’ve kept writing and training as an artist, the enchantment has remained central to my relationship to words and signs on the page. The drunken ecstatic transformational materiality and beauty of languages verbal, visual and aural restlessly plays with my imagination and stretches the limits of the world that I see. But what is it that one sees as writer in the theatre? How does one face the world?

Theatre is a public forum. Writing for the theatre and live performance, thus, demands engagement with the world. To write a play is a civic act, or at very least the articulation of a desire to take part in a civic dialogue with society. Broad questions of identity and human rights enter very much into the frame of a play’s vision. What stories do you choose to tell when you face the page? And how indeed will you tell them? Content and form are inextricably linked, as they are in the “real” world outside the site of action of a theatre piece. When I write, the question nearly always has become over the years, “Why this story now? And how can I shift the world a little bit by re-framing the ways in which we are conditioned to seeing the human figure, the post-post colonial erotic, political and spiritual body, in space and time?” As a bilingual child of immigrants from Cuba and Argentina, respectively, the question inevitably also includes “And how does this story or stories engage with and of the Americas and the larger world?”

I’ve spent most of my writing life challenging and resisting labels and categories. Perhaps some of my colleagues would attest that the fact that I trained with master playwright and teacher Maria Irene Fornes right after receiving my undergraduate and graduate school degrees in theatre has something to do with my wariness of labels. After all, Fornes’ example was one of sublime resistance. She wrote all different kinds of plays over a forty-year period and defied expectations of what a female dramatist could do in the United States if she simply set about pursuing her vision relatively unconditionally. Her body of work is uncompromising, consistently surprising, unequivocally female in its concerns, and relentlessly ambiguous in its approach to the delineation of character. Her protagonists are deeply flawed, ornery, not particularly noble most of the time, and often blind-sided by their own complex natures and/or their socioeconomic positions in society. The intensive four-year training with Fornes at the INTAR Hispanic Playwrights Laboratory certainly had a profound influence on me as a young artist, but I recall resisting categories even before I worked with Fornes.

Back in graduate school at UCSD, I wanted to write outside any box, pursue interdisciplinary collaborations, and make all kinds of plays. If I think a bit harder on this, I would say, well, that’s just part of being an artist. One needs to start busting outta the box right from the get-go in order to get heard or want to get heard. But actually I think that for me writing for live performance always meant writing for this moment in time, however the moment manifested itself. Margaret Atwood talks about ‘negotiating with the dead’ when she writes, and for me, that negotiation has as much to do with listening to the ancestors as much as it has to do with the spectral beings that haunt theatre itself and its history. What is it that often we recall with fondness when we think about the acts of performance that inspired us at an early age? The sense of community, the ability to dress up and lose oneself in a role, the wonder that simple stagecraft can elicit, and the ability to re-awaken the senses and sharpen the mind to new ideas, forms, and stories.

Theatre is poetry, and the poet’s song rides the chord of every emotional beat in the theatre.

For more of this essay visit:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *