Simón Adinia Hanukai and THE FALL: A conversation about creating Theatre across borders
In 1989 the Berlin Wall came down, ushering in a new generation and changed world. Today, 25 years later, Simón Adinia Hanukai and collaborators are digging into what this event and the role of walls play in our world today. THE FALL is a multi disciplinary, multi national and multimedia production that I had a chance to see on it’s last night in NYC before heading to Eastern Europe for the world premiere in the Fall of 2015. It’s also an attempt to explore how to make theatre across borders. In a world where skype becomes the rehearsal and writing room, youtube and facebook are the best ways to record rehearsals and time zones can be your worst enemy, Simon and I ironically talked over a bad skype connection about the workshop and the piece.
HW: What is the entire scope of the creation of this project?
SH: It started in 2011 in Romania. I was there, working on a show in Cluj and I had many conversations with the actors about their relationship to communism pre 1989 and now. I’m from Azerbaijan and I was 11 when the wall came down. We weren’t allowed to talk about it, you could have gone to jail immediately, but people were listening to BBC and trying to translate and make sense out of the English and what was happening on the other side of the world.
So I was able to relate in Romania, knowing what it was like before and after. Romania and Azerbaijan are very related; corrupt governments, little freedom of speech, the separation between the classes and generations has become much more drastic. And when the Romanians spoke about it, their bodies would change, the memory was a full body experience.
I knew the 25 year anniversary was coming up, so I reached out to 2 or 3 artists and we started to talk about what hope looked like 25 years later. 1989 was so full of hope all over the world, it was so rich, and at that exact time [in 2011], Occupy Wall Street started and I was reading posts about what was going on here [in NYC] and it was such a hopeful time… and I thought “oh my god, we’re in another wave, 25 years later we’re going through another wave of transformation all over the world”.
HW: So even now, what does hope look like after Occupy? After the Arab Spring? From the first Obama election to the present?
SH: We interviewed a couple dozen people from all over the world, including Wendy Brown, a professor at UC Berkeley, who wrote the book Walled States; Waning Sovereignty where she is looking at current countries and communities that are using walls as a way to hold onto power that might not exist anymore. There are more walls between countries today than in ‘89 and we don’t think of the world today as a walled off space. Pretty much every country now has a militarized border and it’s a money maker for a lot of companies.
After the interviews I reached out to 5 writers for the first draft: Saviana Stanescu (Romania), Anita Kirpalani (France), Christina Quintana (Cuba/USA), Boo Killebrew (USA) and Magda Romanska (Poland), who would all contribute weekly writings and myself and the ensemble would create physical and written responses to their work. We showcased that draft in November 2013, which was more of a collage. The voices were too different and it was too many voices and we ended up going with Saviana and Anita, who worked well alone and together. We just finished our third and final workshop draft. Next, we are going to do a tour of Eastern Europe, possibly Edinburgh and then there will be a 2016 premiere of the piece in NYC at La Mama.
HW: Can you talk about the use of found footage from ‘89 and the countries affected by the fall of Communism? You started the show with the full video of Tiananmen Square, which I had never actually seen.
SH: So many people said that same thing. The images and video from Berlin, China, Hungary and Poland paint the starting point for us, but it’s not a piece about that, it takes off from there. We started in ‘89 and then move to focusing on the walls of today, we actually list the current walls in progress and trade agreements that include walls. We’re possibly going to go interview people today who are affected by these walls (US/Mexico, Israel/Palestine etc..) and include their voices in this final production.
HW: The show is just so huge, in terms of content, structure and collaborators.
SH: Exactly, and so much of the production happened over large distances, one of the writers is in Syracuse (Saviana), another one in France (Anita), I was all over the place and the dramaturg (Jessica Applebaum) was in Greece and Morocco and the video designer (Cinty Ionescu) was in Romania. These collaborations over distances are often incredibly exciting and difficult and frustrating and fun. It’s a dynamic distance, because it’s like “we’re not just working on a piece” in NYC. We’re in the virtual room, creating a piece about walls in a place that feels like it has no walls, that we can create across oceans, across boundaries and across walls.
But then we’re also putting up another wall, because you and I, for example, have been able to travel and do work in multiple countries, in multiple places, in multiple continents and we’re able financially to fly all over and do the things that we do. And it’s scary to think about how the virtual room might affect our lives and stop us from being mobile, and then how are we acknowledging that there is a class war and many people of a certain class and education aren’t able to do what we’re doing. We’re going to start addressing this for the tour.
HW: How do you put the process of this onstage and let the process and product have a conversation inside the product?
SH: We have a large community in the process of developing, which immediately puts the process on the stage. This is already our third draft that we’ve shown to an audience and received feedback, so the audience is very integral to our process. In our final product, it’s still hard to see how and if the process will emerge. Anne Bogart says that through the performance you can gauge what the rehearsal room was like and I see that in this draft. Our rehearsal room was very imaginative and a cool (and difficult) room to be in. The Wednesday before our final weekend, an actor came in and said “Hey guys, I’ve been thinking about this a lot, what do you think about these changes” and the next night we implemented a huge structural change from his proposal. Usually that’s not the case in theatre.
HW: So then what’s your role as a director when there are “too many cooks in the kitchen”?
SH: My role is that of an editor. I love having too many cooks. I work in a collaborative way, everyone in the room has a voice. Cinty and Helen Yee (composer) were in every rehearsal, exploring how video and sound are integrated into every rehearsal and contributing to the creation of the piece.
HW: This show speaks to the moment, which is rare in theatre, because it takes so long to make a play, but because this moment that we’re in, geopolitically, this piece offers the opportunity to dig in and reflect what’s going on outside. I saw this piece of Saturday and then the immigration speech happened on Sunday.
SH: That was a big part of this, how do we bring the current into this, exploring the bigger moment. What do the trend of walls have to do with Ferguson, Tunisia, Ukraine, Russia…. It’s not about 25 years ago, or even a year ago, it’s about the questions we’ve been asking for 25 years, like what are the lines between protection and freedom and in the world of the internet.
HW: -and the idealist in me wants to believe that my generation is different because of the virtual world and that we are poking through physical walls.
SH: yes, but what about the class wall? What about the people for whom it’s not easy to move across borders? Who are we leaving out the equation and the conversation?
This piece has been about figuring out these questions and also how to collaborate across different disciplines and it’s been so exciting to work with artists who are all incredibly committed to the piece. As a theatre maker and an activist, this is a piece that’s very much close to heart. For my personal history and today, in this world of walled nations, it’s looking at how we make theatre through these connections, how we create theatre across borders. And it’s exciting and exhausting.
Hannah Wolf is a stage director, dramaturge, teacher and creative producer originally from Juneau Alaska. She’s developed work with playwrights and devising ensembles at companies such as Perseverance Theatre, the Vineyard Theatre, Theatre in the Rough, Conni’s Avant Garde Restaurant, Elephant in the Room, Writopia Lab, The Secret City and The Kennedy Center. She has a BA from Western Washington University, trained with the SITI Company and is a member of the Lincoln Center Directors Lab, a core company member of Superhero Clubhouse and part of the 2014/15 Soho Rep Writer/Director Lab. She recently returned to the US after spending a year in Bucharest Romania on a Fulbright Research Grant and curates the blog Ask A Director. Find her on the internet at Hannahjwolf.com