From Brown University's News and Events, by Courtney Coehlo: Erik Ehn, professor of theatre arts and performance studies, will bring a series of 17 of his plays, titled Soulographie: Our Genocides, to La Mama Experimental Theatre Club in New York in November. Leading up to those performances will be a series of events at Brown and in Providence, including workshops, artist discussions, and the Brown premiere of one of the plays, Yermedea, Sept. 20-30, 2012.
PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Playwright Erik Ehn has dedicated much of his professional career to fighting against genocide. It was a theme that came to him when, shortly after graduate school, he found himself struggling to find meaning in his writing.
“I had a crisis of purpose, and my mother, in a very good piece of advice, said, ‘If you’re stuck, help somebody until you figure things out.’ So I started working in a soup kitchen and I realized that [advocacy] was a mission for writing,” Ehn said.
Trips to Guatemala, Serbia, and, later, to Rwanda and Uganda solidified the subject matter for Ehn, and for the last 20 years genocide has been a constant theme in his plays. Ehn will present that life’s work, a compilation of 17 plays titledSoulographie: Our Genocides at the La Mama Experimental Theatre Club in New York City Nov. 11-18, 2012.
The plays will be performed in rotation, completing the cycle over the course of a nine-day marathon. The plays range in duration from 15 to 90 minutes and represent a variety of formats, but all are centered around 20th-century America’s relationships to genocides in the United States, East Africa, and Central America. Some examine actual historical events, such as the Tulsa Race Riots, while others are more abstract, bringing to light ideas and themes rather than a specific chronological timeline.
“My goal with Soulographie is to approach genocide from as many points of view as I can. It’s meant to be too much and more than anyone can see and more than anyone can withstand. The idea is to increase space, to stretch out a space for imagining and empathizing and paying attention to genocide,” Ehn said.
In advance of the New York performances, Ehn has organized a series of events at Brown and in Providence, starting with the Brown premiere of Yermedea, one of the Soulographie plays, which runs at Brown’s Leeds Theatre Sept. 20-30, 2012. Set in Central America, the play draws inspiration from the horrors of the civil war in El Salvador and explores the social and psychological effect of life lived in the midst of genocide. Directed by Kym Moore, assistant professor of theatre arts and performance studies, the play is a hybrid puppet theatre performance where the live actors not only manipulate the puppets but act alongside them. Puppeteering is being directed by Alejandra Prieto Garcia, a visiting assistant professor and puppet artist from Madrid.
Ehn, who incorporates puppets into roughly half of the Soulographie plays, said that it’s a style of theatre that he’s always been drawn to because of how the presence of the puppets changes the audience dynamic. “They’re physical and gorgeous but also abstract and dark. Because a puppet only seems to be looking back at you, you can stare at it in a different way than you can stare at a human actor. A puppet is strong and can withstand your interrogation,” Ehn said.
In addition, free open rehearsals for Maria Kizito, another Soulographie play, will take place in October at 95 Empire Street in Providence and will also bring together the play’s Ugandan and American actors for discussions.
In September and November, the All That Rises series, co-sponsored by the Department of Theatre Arts and Performance Studies, the Creative Arts Council, and the Office of International Affairs, will convene a special series of workshops, panels and performances centered around Soulographie. Events include puppet workshops and performances by artists from Spain, Los Angeles, and Indonesia, and discussions on how visual art can be used to address healing from trauma, especially in cases of genocide and war. Artists include the Indonesian puppet theatre group, Papermoon, presented in collaboration with FirstWorks, and Paul Lazar from the Wooster Group performing Suzanne Bocanegra’s When a Priest Marries a Witch. Guest speakers come from Northern Ireland (Pauline Ross), Serbia (Dijana Milosevic), Argentina (Claudia Bernardi), and Uganda (George Ongom).