THE WAY OF WATER at the National Theater Institute
Wed, 04/25/2012 - 13:13 hhelinsky
by Georgina Escobar
I got an email from Caridad early this year in which she introduced me to this project and asked, ‘would the National Theater Institute be up for staging a reading?’ Sure, I thought. Not really knowing the scheduling and ends and ways of the National Theater Institute…
But I read the script and loved it. Immediately, I hurried down the steps of the old Hammond Mansion at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center to the little office at the end of the hallway. “NTI”. Known for their infamous slogan “Risk. Fail. Risk Again.” My solitary days at the O’Neill consist of being on the third floor with the rest of the Literary Office team. There, surrounded by books, acting as guardians of text and words, we seldom see the inner-workings of our sister entities on campus. I felt it was necessary to create that bridge. I took the script to the Artistic Director and she assured me it was something wonderful, for a great cause, worth doing and very fitting to NTI’s aesthetic of surprising the students and the community with bold new play readings from writers-in-residence, or in this case, Caridad Svich.
The National Theater Institute is a conservatory of theater in which twenty to thirty students submerge themselves in the solitary grounds of the Eugene O’Neill for thirteen weeks to study theater. They work seven days a week, a minimum of ten-hours a day refining their skills in acting, directing, playwriting, movement, voice amongst others. Because of the intense atmosphere it also breeds a sort of silent community that is palpable when you first set foot on the grounds. I believe this was probably what happened to Caridad when she first arrived, an honorary guest to her reading of “Way of Water” on Earthday weekend. You would expect a natural fuzz and buzz to follow such great combination, but this is the O’Neill. People here love the intimate. Our audiences expect rough, expect process, expect breakthroughs.
That was exactly what happened on that Saturday. The actors met for the first time a few hours before lunch-time. The script had been slightly re-written after a reading at the Lark, so I was literally handing them material as they walked through the door. I was nervous. In all honesty I believed this was an NTI event. I had passed the torch, and given them my Mexican blessing—which consists of making the sign of the cross mid-air as if casting a sort of minor magic. But it is common amongst this community of artists for us to always think as collaborators. I jumped in. I wanted the reading to show the words, I wanted the actors to convey the message, I wanted the audience to be as moved as I was when I read it. I wanted the audience to walk out of there and say: I want to make a difference and I don’t know how. Then I wanted them to go out and research and get informed, and find ways to pay attention. I wanted this piece to change their world.
And just like that catholic gesture cast upon them that day, the reading proved itself to be a form of minor magic itself. It cast its own charm. The actors, reading it for the first time where possessed by the immaculate crafting of the cadence and beats and rhythms and moods. The audience danced along. The intimate Dina Merril Theater (a black box that is actually a BLUE box due to its initial venture into becoming a Television/Film studio) transformed itself into the world of the play.
Between acts, I stumbled outside and asked my friend and Literary Manager if he could moderate the talk-back, he does it every summer within our Conferences. ‘No’ he said, ‘You can do it.’
But I wanted to know everything! Moderate? That sounds nothing like me. I wanted to ask Caridad about her process, about character construction, about impact, about the future of this campaign, about her thoughts on how theater can change the collective consciousness on environmental awareness. I wanted to know it all. When the time to ‘moderate’ came, all the questions seemed to sum up into one: “Why Now?” and immediately I made quick eye contact with Caridad and I could have sworn that within both of us the answer was “Well. Why NOT.” She elevated the simple answer and allowed her audience into the world of her plays, reaching out to some far back and speaking of the importance of revisiting forms of writing that were present early on. She spoke of the importance of being aware of our worlds crisis’ at all times, because we are artists, because we are creators, because we are alive. This was better than a cup of hot chocolate on a cold winter day for the NTI students. This is what we crave: to be told that all of us are connected and have a sense of purpose. I could feel their bodies lean in as Caridad spoke of the creation of character and her journey as a writer. Then people asked such things as ‘what’s next?’ ‘will this be presented in those affected communities’ and ‘how do you know when to let go of something you’ve written.’ The questions and conversation varied and the intimate blue-box felt suddenly like a campfire.
Jorge Luis Borges states in the last line of one of his poems; “Everything happens for the first time, but in a way that is eternal. Whoever reads my words is inventing them.” That night we met up with some audience members at the local Dutch Tavern and it was evident then as it was at the theater, this piece will go on to change people, and as it happens simultaneously with colleges and communities around the world, this message and those words will happen for the first time, but in a way that is….eternal.
Georgina H. Escobar, M.F.A
Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, Literary Office
The Way of Water by Caridad Svich was read on April 21, 2012 at the National Theater Institute at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center.