Instead of Redface: Theater & Performance in the Indigenous Americas
Theater History Seminar for Brown/Trinity MFA Actors & Directors
I found “Iphigenia Crash Land Falls on the Neon Shell That was Once Her Heart” both a compelling and slightly frustrating/confusing read (I was not familiar with the role of Iphigenia in Greek Mythology beforehand). I’m still trying to figure out what exactly the title means. I am interested in the use of film and live-streaming within the play and how it is used in the exploration of the female body and sexuality in the media. If I was overwhelmed just reading the play (I had a hard time keeping track of what was going on in film and on the stage simulateously), I imagine seeing a production might be a sensory overload (with the film, lights, club music, dialogue, songs, etc.). Part of me wishes that Iphigenia had in fact succeeded in changing her own fate. I’m not quite sure what Svich wants me to walk away with…
I find it difficult to write a response about this week’s readings. These texts, both set in various levels of reality, in a sort of modern, hard-core dreamscape that spans time and history, are hard for me to grasp and wrap my head around. That being said, they have also been the most compelling texts I’ve encountered in this course. They present kooky, impossible directing challenges, and in that, incredible opportunity for discovery and innovation. The Iphigenia script especially excites me; there are a million different ways to conceive this script, while essentially retelling one of the oldest stories recorded. I also appreciate how Caridad Svich used this story as a lens to bring to light the abduction, rape and murder of poor and anonymous native women. Her telling these stories as a rave play gave it a sort of dirty glam that was simultaneously terrifying, fun, and oddly recognizable. Compared to other works we’ve read that have examined similar issues, I think Svich successfully created a theatrical work that tells these women’s stories, without hitting the audience over the head with a sort-of prescriptive doom and gloom that sometimes distances the audiences experience and understanding.
The swerving narrative of Chaos follows more musings than story, for me. And the little story that exists darts this way and that way, almost like the psychic traffic of our memories. This work exudes memory, observation, and how we can see one image, and it takes us inside our mind, bolting through associations, memories, and musings. What does it mean to bring memories into present situations. Does this anchor us to our past or drag us down with it? Are we retracing our steps or are we getting lost in the past?
This brings up the lines in Iphigenia of “I remember things that I haven’t even lived” (364). How is this memory a productive one? It seems like a tragic ending, to remember those sad things. And then to be followed up with “I have erased everything” reminds me of how other Indians try to erase their memories with alcohol. Also an unproductive path.
This rare quote of identification in Chaos, “We are nothing without our relationships…that is Chocktaw” (50) seems to suggest that it is in fact history which makes us. But we see through Nina that it also unmakes us. I interpret her situation as not being able to fully move on from her personal tragedy, which leads to humiliation and her inner death.
When something says “made in the USA,” or one identifies where they came from, or who “made” them, we conjure the history of that object, or of that person. We were all made somewhere. And where we were made does not necessarily define our future, but it might define how we got to where we are. This “made in” is almost like a scar. Scars, which also feature prominently in Iphigenia. A scar as a symbol of history. As a symbol of time not healing all things. As a symbol of remembrance…
A land also has history. Who has been on this land, and when? When we walk around, how much history has been covered up, and how much is shown? This makes me think of Rome, and how when the Church came in, they literally placed tiny crosses on top of all the buildings, at their tallest point. This said “we win. And we are closer to god.” But they didn’t erase most of the buildings, so the people would always have the comparison of victory in mind. Never forget who conquered you. And in America, it seems most history is razed, as if to say. Forget the conquered; we were always here.
Tying modern history into myth and legend. Does this distance ourselves from our own problems by saying they’re trying to be pigeonholed into other contexts? As if to say, I’m looking at ourselves, but through a lens, so it must not be real? On the other hand, work that comments on today can be discounted as an isolated event, and not representative of a larger problem or systemic issue.
Iphigenia seems to be written with the temporal vibe of a rave, where time feels like a bubble. Perpetual, repeating, like the chorus of a song, or an electronic beat. But the club is not a real place. The play only seems to escape this monotony when Iphigenia dies. The ramping up of Part Three, with its quick, percussive, accelerating scenes seems to submit that the cycle of mourning, of escape, and of bliss, is only true until something happens. Then we have to snap out of our rhythm and see the world for what’s really going on. How does this apply to groups of people processing tragedy? How do they break out of their rhythms? What good would it do them?
Chaos begins with an interesting challenge to the very notion of cross-cultural understanding—comparing it to the collision of the upper and lower spiritual worlds. Chaos and Iphigenia made me curious about the ways the diffusion and intermingling of cultures are simultaneously necessary to a continuing cultural life, and in some ways, contribute to the erasure of Native American culture. Iphigenia was the first play I read for this course that I would not have identified as a play concerned with Native American people; I had to look up the history of Santeria, with its mingling of Catholic, West African, and Native American elements before I thought I understood the connection. In the reading of the play, the roots in Santeria are further complicated (and for me, obscured) by the allusions to Greek tragedy and contemporary pop culture. If Native American culture continues to evolve and absorb other influences, will there be a point at which it can no longer be recognized as distinctively Native American? –Jack Dwyer
I’m in a place right now where I’m thinking about the showing vs. telling aspect of theater: when does it serve the story to show? When do we only tell? Is one better than the other? Do we have to tell if our budget isn’t big enough or are we just not trying hard enough to show in an authentic/non-corny way? Iphigenia had me thinking about that due to its Greek influence. There seems to be equal parts showing and telling in this case, though much of the showing is through the TV screen and there’s a whole other meditation I have on the use of TV screens or projections in live theater shows. Back to SvT: I don’t believe that this play over told. Because of the use of the TV screen, I think that gave the play permission to tell more since the average human eye will be drawn to the vast visuals on screen. Narration and live action is needed. The place where I think there was to much of, actually, was showing. That’s because there were several instances in which action was taking place on both the screen and the stage. I’d hope that whoever the director is is able to balance the action as it needs to be.
We touched on this in the last class… Chaos concludes with the notion that certain cultures are united and defined by their grief. Howe describes an interaction with a Jewish woman whose ancestors were Cherokee. The two women reach across vast cultural divides to relate, but sadly confirm that their profound history of persecution and oppression connect them most acutely. I’m also interested in the idea that “holiday is the mask of the oppressor”. Celebration of subjugating the other becomes the common ground for victors: a frightening contrast to the uniting trauma for victims.
I really enjoyed both the readings we got immensely though I will focus on Chaos for today’s response. So talk about a title that is exemplified in it’s form. The series of monologues? Or short stories that come out of Chaos are so brilliant to me precisely because the structure of the piece seems to be chaotic. For example the piece opens with a personal explanation of chaos and then it goes on about the speaker and then the speaker changes the place for us the reader and the suddenly the speaker as character goes away and the speaker’s ancestors take precedent, while it simultaneously shifts in focus to the story of how the speaker’s family was part of the land exchange story that later becomes the story of New Orleans was came to be owned by the French. Basically it took me three or four pages of reading to realize that the nature of the ‘Chaos’ piece is that these stories were expected to shift, fuse, morph and become something else as the very story progresses and that was incredibly exciting and captivating. The author’s ability to make me want to follow a very specific story and group of people and then midway take me somewhere with a totally different set of new elements and have me as interested was something I did not expect.
Class and gender roles are portrayed in very interesting and surprising ways in Iphigenia. But the big thing I am left thinking about is sacrifice. Perhaps I am watching too many episodes of Game of Thrones, but the notion of “sacrifice” and what it carries – honor, punishment, etc. – and how it is viewed in history is incredibly interesting to me. Especially when I look at the way our current society views man’s death by fellow man. Where is honor still attached? Or maybe even duty? And where is it capital punishment?
The use of heightened language. That’s what Iphigenia has me thinking on. The form literally embodies the content as the words seem to come crashing in at all angles. Sometimes leaving me intrigued, other times lost as to its purpose. The text is not orderly. I always wonder about the effectiveness of heightened or poetic language in theatrical work. While the words can be pretty to listen to, actors often can’t activate them. This makes me feel as though I’m watching a poetry reading versus a live event. How do we get poetry to have stakes in the moment? Thoughts?
Svich’s “Iphigenia” surprised me with its modern references and lack of a clearly Native American protagonist (given our previous readings in this course). I found the play to be an interesting investigation of identity and class, and how where we come from dictates a certain path for our lives. The Fresa Girl scene was especially potent with this theme when Iphigenia says, “I could be one of these girls. Who says I have to be Iphigenia?” The bitterness and resentment with which the girls regard Iphigenia seems unfounded given they only know her as a public figure. But the girls’ station in life tells them they should resent the wealthy because they’ve never known an easy day in their lives. Iphigenia, on the hand, has a whole score troubles in her life, including a brutal kidnapping, but I find it more difficult to empathize with her just because of her class. The constant reminder of her lavish Chanel clothing paints a negative image of her. Her privilege seems to invalidate a part of her quest find her own identity. Is that fair? How do we deal with privilege? To me, Svich’s choice to include class in this narrative draws attention to the institutional structures around us and how they have the power to determine an individual’s station in life, and furthermore, how these structures impact interpersonal relations. The theater is a fitting place to explore empathy, which is why I find this play moving. I am excited by any dramatic literature that remixes ancient greek mythology with a modern twist, but I am interested in learning for whom this play was written. Is there a specific Native American tribe that would understand all of the play’s cultural references? I am also interested in how class manifests itself within tribal culture and how it differs from “American” notions of upper, middle, and lower class.
I am more interested in the word Chaos and what physical and mental gains it has. There is something so visceral about the creating order and then dismembering it. What happens in the aftermath? Svich did a complex work in that with the scene of rape and well chaos and the dismemberment of her human state.
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