domingo, 18 de mayo de 2014

Amanda Kemp: "I am interested in creating spaces for people of diverse racial backgrounds..."

Amanda Kemp, playwright, teacher, actress and organizer of artistic events speaks in a beautifully resonated voice of her convictions. “I am interested in creating spaces for people of diverse racial backgrounds to claim lineages beyond those in their immediate families,” she said in a recent interview with Jaquematepress.

“I first got involved in theatrical productions when I was in Middle School,” she said as she eased into her chair. “I went to a predominantly black and Puerto Rican middle school where we also did poetry and sang in the gospel choir.”

Did you get into theater at an early age?
I studied theater formally for the first time in high school where we worked on American plays, had acting classes as well as classes in direction. Then there was a Saturday program on musical theater. But one of the frustrations I had was—that was back in 1984—we mostly did plays which featured white characters. I remember saying at a meeting of the drama society at my high school “I feel frustrated because I can’t be black and do this play.” The director said if she cast me it would bring the whole inter-racial dynamic into the character relationships. She said that wouldn’t be true to the play. That started a conversation in high school that eventually led me to do things on my own. 

There are many different notions concerning what theater is all about. What is it for you?

There are two things. It isn’t an end in and of itself. You work along with artists when you put together a performance. I love that! And it is a vehicle, a tool to get people from point A to point B, whether that means to change their minds or to open their hearts, to get them forgive or let go of things. That’s the kind of stuff that I write and am interested in.

Your theatrical group has a significant name: theater for transformation.  

Yes. I created it in 2007. I knew that what I wanted to do was to make a big impact on the world. I spent several years in graduate school trying to be an academic and a mother of two small children in a small town. But around 2007 I really began searching and found myself dissatisfied. What I saw was that I wanted to have an impact on the planet. I love to be in a small town but as my academic career was frustrating me and my marriage dissolving itself I came to realize that I had been pretending. So then I decided to quit and I stopped teaching—I was at Franklin and Marshall College at the time—and I also gave up working on my marriage and went into adult education for a year, in Philadelphia.  Very soon thereafter I articulated my mission and I started to share it with people. I felt that I should hide no more, no more being embarrassed or afraid. I realized that my mission was to help heal the planet. And for me Theater for Transformation, the company I founded, was not just a company; it was performance technology that would bring about healing and a radical way of looking at ourselves and our past.

It sounds a little bit like the ideas of Augusto Boal…

Yes, I know about him but I didn’t take that path. I could have. But I didn’t. I thought about what direction I was headed but you see I am very much interested in history. And so what I wanted to do was to recover some lost history. I write plays on historical figures which most people don’t know about. I wanted to develop them and I also wanted to change the ending.

You mean the ending of historical situations…

Yea. I had a conversation with this spiritual teacher and she said: ‘you can heal generations even though they have all died. You in this moment can go seven generations back, and forward also.’  I just loved that. So I saw myself more as a re-newer. Rather than have people articulate their problems, go on stage and play out different possibilities, I wanted to do something a little more like healing. Letting other characters and situations stand in for us. I have this play about 2012, about this woman who identifies with someone from 1961, in a very difficult situation, a woman who has lost a child. She can stand in for us in so many ways in spite of her time period, culture and circumstances. I was interested in healing generations behind us, as well as generations before us.

What kinds of things does Theater for Transformation do?

The method is to start with waiting worship, a practice of Quakers and other groups. It is just waiting to listen and to hear what the spirit has to say to you and to the group that is assembled. It could be said in song, in words, in a poem, in movement. It may not be anything which has to be said. It maybe just an experience.

Does it begin with improvisations?

That’s a good question. The first script we worked on was a script I wrote but then I got stuck with it. We performed it several times but I felt dissatisfied with it. So I prayed and a poem came and that was the turning point which gave me the impetus to write a monologue. So my process before we get to the group is sort of praying and channeling through writing what this person’s story is, what she wants to say to us, giving her the space to say whatever she wants to say.

Do you accompany that with acting routines, physical warm-up…

That happens when we begin to work with the group. When I write I wait to hear a voice; I am not a musician, I don’t know how to write music, but I sing and I bring that in and we work it out with the director before getting together with the whole group, to read and listen to it around the table, as you do in traditional theater groups. I do a lot of cutting, adding, and revision to keep things in line. Then I take actors and I ask ‘why am I saying this?’

Do you personally have a routine of preparation or training?

I was doing that but then I got a bit concerned that I might be imposing my spirituality on other people. What I meant when talking about the technology of transformation--Yoga, rituals, theater, worshops--is bringing all of those elements together in the performance and in the rehearsal process. But what we ended up with was waiting worship. I created an ancestors workshop, allowing actors and directors to get in touch with their own ancestors.

Are your themes mostly multi-racial or more specific?

Mostly about people who were enslaved. People live in a multi-racial world. They don’t get enslaved themselves. I am interested in that, in tracing back our ancestors, but not just one race. I am interested in creating spaces for people of diverse racial backgrounds to claim lineages beyond those in their immediate families. Who is the we? Yea. That’s what I want to expand.

So there is an inevitable context to the situations. How do you see the situation of race discrimination in the United States today?

When I was creating the company what I was thinking about was that we have to remember and forgive. By remembering I mean re-attaching. For Afro-Americans the whole discussion about slavery is fraught with pain, anger and humiliation. ‘Why us?’ Then for white Americans it is like saying ‘it’s not me, I didn’t do it so why make such a big deal about it.’ There is a lot of resistance to this history. I don’t think that we are determined by our past but we can be limited if we still hold on to it in ways we are not willing to acknowledge. I wanted to create pieces that would acknowledge our past. It doesn’t stop with ‘we,’ and guilt and denial. There must be something else which can allow us to see the complexity of humanity.

That comes out in your plays…

Yes. One of my first plays is about Benjamin Franklin. One of the main characters is his wife Debora, who buys a black boy. The child gets very sick and dies. She really tries to keep him alive. I wanted to tell the complex story of love and bondage, how fragile we all are. How we can love Debora, you know what I mean? That’s what I am interested in now, loving ourselves, loving each other. We still live in a racist society, with institutionalized white privileges, embedded injustices, it is systems which are at work which perpetuate things, right? So where I am at now is ‘how do we wake people up,’ to conceiving of something different. What is the next brave thing to do? I don’t know.

What are your plans for Theater for Transformation?

 I am no longer the artistic director of Theater for Transformation. I stepped away from the organization. What is my thing as artist and person on the planet right now? One thing that’s good at the present moment is that I think there is a lot more self-awareness about how we exercise privilege or power and how that affects us in our interactions with each other. In terms of how we can go about redirecting society as a whole, I don’t see it as a result of electoral politics. I think something has to happen from the inside. How do you go about measuring that? I think in terms of a spiritual frame. We live on a planet, in a galaxy, in a universe and there are lots of influences at stake.  

What are you working on now?

I’m working on a "Inspira: The Power of the Spiritual," a musical performance that integrates stories of when and where spirituals empowered people and transformed societies.  We will debut this in 2015 on the 150th anniversary of the 13th Amendment which made abolished slavery in the United States.

Contacts:  email:


No hay comentarios.:

Publicar un comentario