Poetry and Ferocity, or the Dare of the Page
Chicago, June 15 — In response to being honored at the 2012 ATCA annual conference for winning the 2011 Francesca Primus Prize, playwright Caridad Svich delivered a poetic evocation of “the dare of the page.” She began with thanks to ATCA, the Francesca Ronnie Primus Foundation, Isabel Allende “for her blessing to write my own version of The House of the Spirits for the stage, Repertorio Espanol in NYC for first commissioning and producing … [it], and Main Street Theatre, Denver Center Theatre, Mixed Blood Theatre and Teatro Mori in Chile for subsequent development and production of my English, Spanish and bilingual versions of the text.”
Then she began:
Measures of change mark a writer’s life
The first dazzling dare on the page
Becomes in time
The hundredth or thousandth stroke of courage
On a screen, notebook, or discarded piece of paper.
If at first the dare is suitably bold, somewhat precocious
Or even brazenly arrogant,
Time’s passage turns the dare into something closer
To the ferocity of life.
Theatre of course is all about ferocity.
The dark void yields merciless light.
The actors gaze reflects endless time.
Coarse, brutal, blunt, vulgar, refined, ecstatic,
Earth-bound and simultaneously heaven-sent,
Theatre’s call sends shivers down the spine
As it beckons artists and audiences alike
To make, share and witness a public ritual
That bespeaks its cultural signs
Through a thin poetic membrane
Composed of bodies in motion,
And fragile utterances sung unto a dying night.
“If a woman writes…” used to be the phrase
Until it became “When a woman writes…”
And then much later
“How a writer writes…”
This is to say:
Being a woman writer who writes primarily for the stage
Carries with it historical burdens
Which are inevitable, even when you try to cast them aside.
I am well aware when I face the blank page
That somewhere down the line
Perhaps on opening night or at the first read-through
Or even at the 10th or 12th college production (if one is so lucky)
Someone will inevitably ask me
What is it like to be a woman who makes theatre?
It is a question that has always stirred me,
Because when I first set pen to paper
And said to myself “I am a writer,”
The thought that my job was more
Than to represent as honestly as I could/The story I wanted to tell,
Seemed an un-necessary and moreover unfair burden.
Isn’t it work enough to tell the story and tell it well?
When does gender and Latinidad enter into the picture?
Does it start when I write the first line?
Or does it play a role much later in the game of telling?
I broach the topic of women and writing
Because this award is for a female theatre artist
And specifically in honor of the late Francesca Primus.
I am well aware that my name is now part of the stream of history
Associated with this prize, and that my job as an artist and activist
Will be forever identified with the prize’s mission to champion excellence,
And to in turn, encourage me to continue to make work
And hopefully inspire other distinguished women
To strive for excellence in their art
And desire to create not one, but a body of work.
Over many years, I have been making theatre
In venues of all shapes and sizes
Across the US and abroad,
With a mandate I gave myself
Rather brazenly when I first started writing professionally
The mandate was this:
Don’t fit into
Or don’t think you have to fit into
Any category, box, label, brand, or funding application check-mark;
Make work because you have to make it,
Even if you’re rolling against the cultural tide,
Even if no one “gets it” at first,
Even if it may not fit into someone’s idea
Of what being a female or Latina writer is like.
Make the work you need to make.
(Why wait? Who says you have to wait?)
Buck the odds, break rules, invent them, seek your tribe, or make your tribe.
And sometimes, many times,
Just find a way…
To keep going.
I think perhaps this is what defines the life of a woman writer in the theatre:
You just have to find a way to keep going.
And along the way, sometimes, if you’re lucky,
Someone, or two or three will say
“Hey. That play you just made really meant something to me.
Don’t stop writing, ok?”
And the challenge in that casually stated “okay” may just be enough
To let you face the page again,
Wrestle with your characters
And with the higher arithmetic
Demanded of theatre’s dramaturgical architecture.
The truth is that I am still learning
About how to make these strange things called plays,
I love that theatre-making is both simple and yet irreducibly complex,
And that in the breathless wonder of night
Visions of other worlds that sometimes resemble our own
Can be conjured with a slant of light, a figure walking across the stage,
And a little bit of poetry charged with the beauty and ferocity of life.
[Caridad Svich received the 2011 ATCA Primus Prize for her stage version of The House of the Spirits. In the 2012-2013 season: her new play GUAPA will receive an NNPN rolling world premiere at Borderlands Theatre in Arizona, Phoenix Theatre in Indianapolis, and Miracle Theatre in Oregon; her play based on Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ Love in the Time of Cholera will receive its Spanish language world premiere at Repertorio Espanol in New York City, and her play The Tropic of X will receive its English language premiere at Single Carrot Theatre in Baltimore, MD. There will also be regional premieres of her bilingual version of In the Time of the Butterflies (based on the novel by Julia Alvarez) at Mixed Blood Theatre in Minneapolis and The House of the Spirits at Gala Hispanic Theatre in Washington D.C.]