This is the first in a series of posts about our upcoming show, The Ravagers, which will be presented on March 4th and 5th. Today's post is from Blake E. Bolan, the playwright and a founding member of Savage Umbrella.
So, here I am in South Korea. It was my initial intention to stay here for a year, teach kids, pay some bills, and see what it was like not to do theater for awhile. It had been about 12 years since I had taken any kind of extended break from making theater - I can count the number of weeks I didn’t have a project on my plate on one hand. Being consumed by theater for all of that time made me think that I couldn’t get a good perspective on what I loved about it, what my desires are all about. I didn’t know if I wanted to be a performer, a writer, a director, an administrator. I didn’t know what it would be like to have my evenings completely wide and free, no all-consuming extra-curricular activity detailing every moment not spent at work or asleep. I wanted to see how other people live - hobbies, dates, television. So, I went to the other side of the globe with no intention of connecting with theater other than perhaps viewing it if the opportunity arose.
Can you guess how that experiment ended up? On one hand, I began to enjoy life in Korea more than I ever thought I would - the people, the FOOD (get yourself to a Korean restaurant as fast as you can and order … pretty much anything), the work, the living. On the other hand, it took me all of 3 months to know, once and for all, how much theater is an integral part of my life. The chance to look both farther outside myself than I am wont to do on any given day and also inside myself to the deepest regions. The sense of ownership in making something that really exists in this world. The delight of doing something that is fleeting and potentially interesting, funny, beautiful. The community that is built between the people who work on a project, and also with the people who take time out of their lives to experience what you’ve created, whatever their experience ends up being. Yes. Yes. YES.
I learned in those months whiling away the hours watching NCIS and eating too much fried Korean meat that every inconvenience, every frustration, every moment spent grumpily in a tech rehearsal really has been worth it. My sense of self is built upon my involvement in the theater, and I am reticent to imagine the self that I would have built without it. I am glad for the person that theater has helped me to become. It has taught me to appreciate the world at every turn - from dance to philosophy to the elocution of Korean 1st graders.
So, what does that have to do with The Ravagers? Once the lightbulb reached full brightness and I was ready to fully embrace the theater once again, I knew it was time to end my hiatus from Savage Umbrella. So, how does one get started working with their company again if they’ve just signed a contract to stay another year on a peninsula with 14 hour time difference to Minneapolis? She works with her cohorts to develop a long-term plan.
So, we decided I would write a show that I would direct in the 2011-2012 Savage Umbrella season. We had some discussions about how long the writing process would take, and what material I would be working from. I previously developed a short piece for the Minneapolis Pinter Studies based on the myth of Oedipus, and Laura and I talked about expanding that work. That got us talking about Greek plays, and Greek myths, and we realized that revitalizing an ancient play would be an excellent addition to the Savage Umbrella repertoire. We left Oedipus for another season, but landed on The Suppliants, the first known Greek play. It’s part of a trilogy, but while the entire myth survives, the text doesn’t. 50 brides, 50 grooms, and a lot of unanswered questions. A lot of room for exploration.
With that in our minds, a few days later, Laura asked me, “What’s the first thing that comes into your mind in connection with the play?” And I said, “The Chinese actors North Korea hired to be fans during the World Cup.” I think we were both puzzled by that for a bit, but as we discussed this connection gained some momentum. The 50 brides of The Suppliants act under the direction of their father at every turn, from begging for mercy from the people of Argos to entering into wedlock with the instruction to murder their husbands on their wedding night. They follow each and every edict set out by their father, who rules them and later rules Argos, their nation of refuge. All but one woman never waver, never question their father’s guidance. So, how can that be? How can you build a family of 50 daughters, no sons, no mothers in sight, and know that they will obey you?
Right here, right now, in my close geographic proximity lies the most secretive nation in the modern world. And there are similar questions. How does a father-figure leader cultivate the unwavering devotion of his country? How does a man convince the people of his nation to accept the assistance of others but to believe they are the only truly good, clean, pure people on the Earth? How far can charisma and a sense of filiall duty take an entire nation, an entire race?
Right now, Savage Umbrella is embracing the distance between playwright and company and embarking on an international collaboration. The idea for simultaneous workshops developed in order to engage artists in both my community here in Seoul and the community in Minneapolis with the questions of the play, the questions of politics, and the questions that arise in between. It’s just beginning, and it’s already one of the most exciting projects I’ve ever had the pleasure to work on. There’s so much to explore, and there are amazing people on both ends diving in. Let me tell you, this is how to make a play.
This is what I was missing.