Q&A: Caridad Svich

Following the release of our latest book, JARMAN (all this maddening beauty) and other plays, we caught up with Caridad Svich to find out more about her book.

Could you tell us a bit about your new book?

JARMAN (all this maddening beauty) and other plays is a collection of three of my most open texts for performance. Open in terms of the theatrical invitation they make for potential collaborators as well as in regards to form. The title piece JARMAN (all this maddening beauty) centers on the artistic legacy of iconic queer British filmmaker Derek Jarman. The other two piece in the book are Carthage/Cartagena, which focuses on themes of displacement and human trafficking in a mythic-poetic landscape, and The Orphan Sea, which focuses on themes of migration and homecoming, filtered through the lens of the Penelope and Odysseus story. All three pieces emphasise unique textual score that is multivocal, contrapuntal and musical in its design and affect. They are pieces, that for me, anyway, work at the limits of what may be possible in live performance that is grounded in text.

You mention in your own website that you experienced a 'strange kind of exile' whilst growing up. How much of this feeling do you think has affected your work and why?

I am a US Latin writer of Argentine-Croatian, Cuban-Spanish descent. Ever since I started writing, my work has always explored liminality – the languages and places and feelings of being between things, as it were. I resist otherness, but am interested in how and why individuals mark and name an Other. I lived in about seven US states while I was growing up. I saw a lot of the US via trips by car, which means you end up seeing the backyards of America, as it were, and listening to a range of sounds and voices that are not, shall we say, homogenous in any way. I think the writer’s position is always one of being outside, looking in, and at the same time, looking out. You hopefully reflect something of the cultures in which you live and also point toward aspects of the human condition that transcend this immediate reflection. As a child that grew up between the English and Spanish language, and one that has ended up writing in both, I have always felt in a similar kind of position in relationship to these languages – they are both mine and not mine, part of my identity and I see and shape the world as an artist, but also always in search of a language that is both – not one or the other, but a hybrid fusion of both in terms of cadence, rhythm and meter. This goes beyond translation. One of the things that initially attracted me to Jarman’s films, for instance, was both their inherent, avowed British-ness and defiant queer-ness, but also their search for something beyond frame(s) of reference. We might call this a visionary approach. How does this relate to exile, you may ask? I suppose it has to do with feeling apart from. I sometimes joke with my colleagues that when I am writing it often feels that I am writing from the wilderness or in the wilderness, exiled, in a sense, from the precepts, social conditions, and/or expectations of immediate, local and national culture(s). This means partly that I seek to treat the canvas of the page as a unique text-score every time, while also striving toward a new poetics for the stage. But it also means that the wilderness – the forest, to use another metaphor – may be the place from which to find new potentiality and possibility(ies) for transformation. Exile, then, as a condition that can be freeing.

 When did you first become interested in performance art?

I write plays that sometimes 'look like plays' on the page, but often not. I live between theatre and performance as a text-based artist. I still identify as a playwright and theatre-maker, but lately I have been calling myself a 'text-builder,' so as to free up what expectations there may be about what a 'play' is or can be. I became interested in performance art through the work, initially, of the late Ana Mendieta. I encountered some of her video and photographic work shortly after she passed away. I also started researching her life and work. I think it was the first time I witnessed work that was earth and body-based and feminist, but also very much speaking to her cultural identity as a Cuban artist. I obtained my MFA in Theatre from UCSD. La Jolla Playhouse is the resident professional theatre on campus. Now, although for many in the field, perhaps, LJP’s identity as a theatre company is tied to its Broadway transfers, like 'Big River', it also is a company that presents fairly boundary-blurring work. So, for example, at LJP, is where I first saw the work of performance and music artist Rinde Eckert and the directorial work of Peter Sellars, and the early work of UK’s Improbable Theatre. Seminal queer feminist poet Eileen Myles was teaching at UCSD when I was there, and if you wandered into the English and Comparative Literature Department, you couldn’t help but feel her impact on the kind of writing that was happening there. I trained with Maria Irene Fornes for four consecutive years in New York City after I received my MFA, and writers-makers in the room included performance artist Carmelita Tropicana and on occasion, Holly Hughes would sit in and work. So, this notion that performance art was somehow outside of the world of theatre-making never really occurred to me. To me, writing for the live body in performance is central, which means that you are writing within a durational form that explores sound, space and time, and viscerality. Now, I am well aware that, yes, if you are thinking canonically from a Western drama perspective, then perhaps this notion that the boundaries are blurred does not factor in quite. But I would argue that if you look at the history of masque plays, for instance, there is a direct ontological link to what may be called performance art. I think we are in a great and interesting time in the arts, where, certainly, strict boundaries are fare less so. I mean, how can you write for live performance and not think about the legacy of Forced Entertainment or Matthew Goulish and Lin Hixson’s work with Goat Island, or Chris Goode or Claire MacDonald and Fiona Templeton?

Would you be able to pick a favourite play that you wrote?

Ah, picking favourites is not fair! I have written over forty plays. So, to pull one out and say, this one feels as if I am abandoning the others. I can say, though, that there are plays that changed or signaled how I thought about theatre-making. Alchemy of Desire/Dead-Man’s Blues was the first play where I let myself consider the presence of song-speech. Iphigenia Crash Land Falls on the Neon Shell That Was Once Her Heart was the first play where I built in a dramaturgical vocabulary for mediated landscapes.The Orphan Sea is the first play where I created spell structure, as opposed to 'scenes'.

Do you have any advice for upcoming playwrights on inspiration, writing processes etc?

It is so hard to write anything. That is, it is easy to write, but much harder to actually clear away all of the clutter of life, business, etc. and actually re-locate the pulse of your individual heartbeat. To really listen to yourself and the world. I advise anything and everything that can make this possible. Taking long walks, seeing a lot of art and then depriving yourself of it. Resisting market-driven impulses and expectations. Looking at the page as an infinite canvas that is open to all possibility(ies) of inscription. Trust the work. This is tough to do. Because you may be defying all the odds, but if you don’t, if there isn’t blood on the page as well as joy, then you may not be digging deep enough within yourself. Laugh. Joke. Live. These too are crucial. The ecstasy and joy of life as well as honoring the wounds we carry. All of these lead to the work.

What did you enjoy the most when writing and editing this book?

The collaboration with Kevin Brown, John Moletress, Theron Schmidt and Pedro De Senna was one of the great joys of putting this boo together. You never know how fellow practitioners are going to write about the work and think about its meanings. So, their contributions are truly surprising and joyful.

Do you have any future research projects or plans?

I am currently editing a new book on audience engagement for Theatre Communications Group in New York, which will launch in June 2016; am working on several new works for performance that continue to explore linguistic and cultural hybridity, and am co-editing a book of interviews with playwrights for Methuen UK, which will release in spring 2017, if all goes well. I think I am a little at a cross-roads as an artist – part of me wants to write epic dance-opera-theatre, and another part of me wants to make intimate, sustainable shows that require very little technically.

Have you read any Intellect books? If so, which is your favourite Intellect book at the moment? 

I first encountered Intellect books through the work of Liz Tomlin and Point Blank! I still adore their book. More recently, favourites are Claire MacDonald’s Utopia and Jo Longhurst’s On Perfection.

To buy a copy of this book please click here.

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