5 Questions with the Creative Team for MADONNA col BAMBINO

Caitlin Sullivan (director), Sarah Einspanier (writer),and Deepali Gupta (composer), have developed and presented MADONNA col BAMBINO through the New Georges Jam and Ars Nova’s 2018 ANT Fest. Individually and collectively, they have also developed work through The Bushwick Starr, Clubbed Thumb, NYTW, and Cherry Lane. Photo by Mattie Liskow.

MADONNA col BAMBINO is written by Sarah Einspanier, composed by Deepali Gupta, directed and developed by Caitlin Sullivan. Structured like a speculative science fiction mass, the play is trippy, eerily precise, weirdly reverential, profoundly moving and deeply funny. It runs July 18th through July 21st at the New Ohio Ice Factory Festival. (Tickets $20.)

  1. Can you each describe a bit about your background, where you grew up, and a detail or two about your mother?

Caitlin: My parents still live in Boston, in the house where I grew up. I have never had keys to it. Even though they live in “the city” my parents never lock their door. My mom wants to make sure that at any moment any of her kids can come home, and by that she means me and my three biological siblings and any of the other dozen or so people who have lived with us over the years. So yeah I’m learning about “boundaries.”

Sarah: Me too ; )

 Deepali: I was born in the Midwest, but my family moved to the very preppiest part of Connecticut right before my adolescence kicked in. And my parents both grew up in India – they met at IIT Delhi, which is a big deal engineering school, even though they met doing a play. My mother is a genius – an immediate expert in anything, which is not how my brain works. She would always ask me, when I told her about my day at school, if my teachers had told me I was a genius. Which they had not. But that was the game – had anyone told me I was a genius today? This is why I have an immense ego. 

Sarah: I was all “torn up” about my mom seeing the first (or let’s be real, any) iteration of this piece as it deals with “Motherhood.” The thought of her coming all the way from Texas, and then hating it and/or me (or worse… feeling absolutely NOTHING) was, you know, absolutely Terrifying.

To which fears my mother immediately – very matter of factly – responded: “I’ll just assume all the good parts are about me and all the bad parts are about Mattie’s mom.” (Mattie being my best friend from childhood.)

Deepali: Lol ! 

  1. I love how this play is sub-titled A Play About Family (in many forms) With No Yelling. This feels like a radical reimagining of the dramaturgy of a family, not to mention the family play as we know it. I’m curious Sarah about what the impulse was to create this new dramaturgy, and for Caitlin and Deepali – how do the physical and the aural world play into this reimagined, dare I say “anti-conflict” form?

Deepali: I think a lot about dissonance, in this playworld and in every other world I step into. In Western tonal music, there’s this idea of resolution – that a volatile note or chord could move into a place of stability and finality. Dissonance moving into consonance. And if a composer guides the listener into resolution in a way that defies expectation, that’s catharsis! I’m being glib, but it’s fundamental, and must be dismantled. 

Caitlin: Yes! Deepali said something early in the process about little “resolutions” without anything ever feeling “resolved” and that felt like a guiding light.  

We’re also playing with a lot of stillness and a lot of silence. The rule of the room is kind of “when in doubt, let it take time.” It feels incredibly vulnerable. To acknowledge our patterns and their power. To create a sense of longing for something else. To try to forge a new path, rather than simply reenacting the narratives we know. And to let it all be a struggle. To let it take time. 

Sarah: Sometimes my brain feels like one big binary. “Good” “Bad” “Right” “Wrong” “Should” “Should Not.” I think this is the piece/the dramaturgy that I needed to work on, that I needed to work towards, that I needed to be in a room (and countless email/text threads) with Deepali and Caitlin creating, in order to be “better,” or rather in order to expand—as an artist sure, but mainly as “a person.”

  1. The play borrows structure and a sense of reverence from a Catholic Mass. Can each of you describe your relationship/history with religion (Catholicism or otherwise) and how it affected the creation of this piece?

Caitlin: I grew up “Catholic,” but it was a very laxed brand of Catholicism. Rather than our local parish, we went to this chapel downtown that defines itself as (I just looked this up) “a Catholic community that welcomes all, fosters healing and reconciliation, and acts for justice.” I was never a true believer, but I loved the ritual of it. And the community, both of my specific church and the larger cultural connection of being a Catholic in Boston. I have a lot of anger toward the Church at this point in my life, but I’m still nostalgic for that space.

Sarah: I “renounced” my Catholicism something like eleven years ago, which didn’t go over super well with my family. I remember having my tonsils removed a couple years later and my grandmother saying (as she held my hair back whilst I vomited up painkillers for the third time that day): “Now is one of those times that if you were still Catholic you could offer up your suffering to Christ.” 

One of us read somewhere that our brains supposedly “stop” developing at age 26 or 27. My immediate response was, “Well then I’m fucked.” If Catholicism and questionable Western traditions shaped me (both consciously and unconsciously), what does it mean to / can I ever really “renounce” them? How might I refill and reframe these forms? This brain space. And also move beyond “rejection!” What do I believe?

Deepali: I was raised Hindu, although I never had any kind of formal religious education. My mother has a shrine in her closet, which is where we pray. Home shrines are a thing, I don’t know about closets. We have this one prayer we all say together, I know it by heart but I don’t know what it means. Once, I googled it – something about the Divine being everywhere, everything, etc. It was a very meaningful google, I cried. I like “being” Hindu because it feels ingrained and intrinsic to me. I’m always discovering it inside me. My parents both say that Hinduism is a philosophy.  

  1. The play also imagines a world in which we are able to choose a surrogate mother. A character talks of mourning the mother “you wish you had.” Without knowing anything about any of your family experiences, is there a quality you would choose in an (additional) surrogate mother? That is, what do you wish you had?

Sarah: Space and a vocabulary for talking about (and also just feeling) feelings. I have this with my friends. I’m working on this with my family. And I’m also working on not expecting EVERYTHING from one person.

Caitlin: It’s probably telling that I don’t quite have words for what I want. I was taught to value strength, resilience, stamina, self-reliance. Now I crave…softness? Spaciousness? A cracking open? It has something to do with removing the word “weak” from my vocabulary… 

Deepali: I used to be so jealous of my friends who were artists whose parents were also artists. I had fantasies of my parents as novelists, arguing about Russian writers. Or sculptors, or even History professors. Those college fantasies, I recognize as a desire for a certain kind of whiteness. A kind of whiteness where everyone goes to therapy and they all talk about it, and everyone in the house has a creative process. It seems silly now. If I had to choose one thing now, I guess it would be nice if I had a mother who played the piano. 

  1. Finally, space and non-verbal communication, both from performer to performer but also from the piece to the audience are such essential aspects of this play. How, personally and as a team, did you craft those moments? In creating a piece with this embedded spaciousness, is there something particular you hope the audience will experience?

Caitlin: We’ve crafted it by focusing on doing just one thing at a time. A sort of extreme attention to the details of each person, in each moment, physically and emotionally. 

Today in rehearsal Beth said “I can’t be BOTH looking at Mary with an A and Christine with a C AND listening to Kristine with a K.” I realized that’s so true about the play as a whole. We’re showing (and experiencing!) the work of really seeing someone, really listening to them, receiving a person rather than projecting or enacting something onto them. I’m hoping the play lands the audience in the similarly receptive space, that they feel that level of attention and experience some sort of opening

Also, we laugh A LOT in the rehearsal room and I hope that’s legible somewhere. 

Deepali: I hope the audience will feel enveloped by the play, surrounded (surrender!).

Sarah: Ooouuu yessss! Surrender…


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