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Reflection on Spark in Omaha

University of Nebraska-Omaha

November 8, 2012

Directed by Liz Nye

                                 By Ellen Struve

After attending University of Nebraska-Omaha’s reading of Caridad Svich’s SPARK, I could not shake the notion of cost.  Unfathomable numbers swirled around the media during the election, and the monetary figures attached to our current wars are both obscene and abstract.  The sums the sisters struggle with during the play are easier to grasp, but equally uncomfortable.   When the sisters discuss “expensive” stuff, their wages, or money wasted on a car ride home, the personal cost of the war is keenly felt.   There is a transformational moment towards the end of the play.  One character blesses another with incredible generosity of spirit.  I found it very moving and am still considering the differences between paying and giving.  The play left me hopeful that moments of extraordinary humanity might ultimately triumph over figures both mean and monstrous.

Ellen Struve is a 2011 Nebraska Arts Council Fellow for Performing Arts.  Her play Recommended Reading for Girls, an O'Neill National Playwriting Conference semi-finalist, received the Stagewrite  award at 2011 Great Plains Theatre Conference and will be part of Omaha Community Playhouse's 2012/13 season.  Struve has a B.A. from the University of Iowa, where she participated in the Undergraduate Nonfiction Workshop.  Her one-act play, Mrs. Jennings’ Sitter, was a MainStage selection for the 2008 Great Plains Theatre Conference and was produced by Shelterbelt Theatre in Omaha, NE and Kokopelli Theatre in New York City.    Her monologue collection Nobody Gets Paid had its premiere at Shelterbelt Theatre and  was performed at Studio Roanoke in Virginia in 2012.  She has a master's degree in arts administration from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and is currently Interim Artistic Director of Shelterbelt Theatre. 


Reflection on Spark in Chicago

Trap Door Theatre, Chicago, IL

November 11, 2012

Directed by Kate Hendrickson

                            Surprised by hope:

                            a reflection on SPARK from Chicago

                            by Emilio Williams 

Trap Door Theatre is, by all accounts, a miraculous place. To get there you must first find, and then cross, a non descriptive, narrow gangway. When you open the door, and then a second door within the back of the restaurant to access the actual venue, you first feel like you have entered a speakeasy from the Al Capone era. And in a way, the fare that is served in this 45-seat alternative venue is as dangerous to one's sense of complacency as a bottle of bootlegged moonshine smuggled from Kentucky is to the liver.

One minute inside, surrounded by all the historical production shots and posters designed by company member and avant-garde filmmaker Michal Janicki, you are already far from Chicago and Al Capone; you are closer to the subversive grandeur of a fringe venue in Berlin, Warsaw, or Barcelona.

(For more on Janicki check out Studiobema)

Trap Door Theatre is widely recognized as the place to go in Chicago for the best European avant-garde theater. The theatrics are always striking, and the acting, without exception is febrile and strong. And this may be the biggest mystery: How this troupe, with such a limited budget is able to put together productions that put to shame the best public theaters in Europe?

Last week, I had one more chance to open that dangerous Trap Door, and I joined some friends, in celebration of Veterans Day, for a dramatized reading of "Spark" by Caridad Svich. Trap Door Theatre produced some years ago, Svich's "12 Ophelias". The production was directed by Kate Hendrickson, and it has become one of those theater experiences that people still talk about, including a real size swimming pool where an all-female music band of ethereal Ophelias took turns drowning.

But "Spark" belongs to a realm far, far away from the poetic worlds that I've always associated with Caridad Svich's more well-known works, and her brilliant adaptations of Latin American novels with a taste for magic realism.

Interestingly enough, only last month I got to see, also in Chicago, a great production of "Fugitive Pieces" another dream-like, nightmare-like poetic piece by la  Svich. That play was performed in a basement and brilliantly directed by Mike Rice for a new, and very fearless, troupe named "The Ex-Pats".

Maybe that is why, this being Trap Door Theater, and Caridad Svich, being the writer of "12 Ophelias" and "Fugitive Pieces," I was really surprised, at first, to find "Spark" to be a text that was stylistically so straight forward, and to the point.

"Spark" uses a familiar settingL three sisters in a house that is falling apart, to tell the drama of a country, our country, where people go to confusing far-flung wars, and may never come back, or most likely, come back but do so, fragmented inside and out. The play is also about those left behind, waiting, living with the guilt of missing the action or missing the beloved, those in charge of paying bills and fixing roofs and get life, well, get life going.

There could be a great danger in treating this plot with a naturalistic style. But Caridad Svich, thank God, is too good and clever to let this play turn into another one of those Lifetime-made for TV movies that infest the contemporary American stage like a bad case of bedbugs. (Will American theater ever, ever recover from  the damage caused by the likes of Marsha Norman and Beth Henley, and the Pulitzer Prize committee, in the 1980's?)

Svich allows the three sisters in this play to be imperfectly human, contradictory, capable, like all, of both heroism and pettiness, all within the same breath.

She also leaves room for subtle, intelligent humor that is very much welcomed in this serious material. (The expert direction of Kate Hendrickson and the performances of the fine tuned cast showed, once more, than there cannot be a truly profound drama that doesn't find room for a good laugh or two)

The ghosts of the absent parents, run through this play in the form of a beautiful music that the characters sing or whistle under their breaths. Those music notes will become the DNA of the family, in a beautifully dangerous recognition scene, read masterfully by Trap Door company members Sadie Rogers and Bob Wilson. Was that playwriting or tightrope walking? Well, both. The moment was so tender and so controlled, it left the audience breathless.

 Company member Tiffany Bedwell brought to life the role of the pragmatic, eldest sister, in one of those rare and generous readings, so full of nuance and dimension, one wished the play would get produced with her in the leading role ASAP. The scenes between her character and her beau, read by Chris Popio, were explosive, sexy and intricate. Popio played brilliantly his character's simple but ingenuous form of no B.S. wisdom.

Newcomer, Skye Fort made hers the awkwardness of the teen sister, a young woman fighting to find her place - in her body and in a very confusing world.

I hear that "Spark" is being read in October and November in theaters and universities in the US and around the globe. I'm sure audiences and performers in all those venues will find this play, the perfect vehicle to ponder some serious issues: the drama of war for veterans, the difficulty facing women vets and their families...

But beyond all that, the audiences will find that the play talks most eloquently to that universal experience that we all endure as human beings:  the need to reconcile and negotiate, day after the day, our basic hopes with the complexities of reality.

And when I say hope, I'm not talking about the "Opra-esque" hope of winning American Idol or joining the cast of Real Housewives of Miami, or learning "The Secret". I'm talking about the hope for a basic, peaceful, honorable life, with food on the table, mental and physical health in our families, a fair shot at graduating and a solid roof over our heads.

Spoiler alert. In this play, hope wins.

Well, that may not sound avant-garde to you, but, now-a-days, in our age of irony and cynicism, I find that triumph refreshingly subversive and political.

And brave.

Emilio Williams is a playwright and theater director from Madrid, based out of Chicago. His comedies include Tables and Beds, an unromantic comedy (Winner IV Premio El Espectaculo Teatral), Medea's got some issues (Winner Best International Show at United Solo Festival, New York 2012), and Smartphones, a pocket-size farce (World Premiere at Trap Door Theatre, Summer 2012). He has been produced in his native Spain, as well as in  France and the United States. Teatro Luna, the all Latina theater company from Chicago will produce the world premiere of his next piece Your problem with men in 2013.


Reflection on Spark in Seoul, Korea


The American Culture Center at Sogang University

November 19, 2012

Coordinated by Kyung-Sook Boo and Claire Chambers

                                 by Claire Chambers

After the reading, the student cast and audience began to discuss the relationships among the characters. To get students thinking about the dynamics of character relationship, I asked the basic question any actor poses to him or herself:  “What does my character want?” Although most of the students had no prior acting experience, their responses were varied and deeply reflective, demonstrating that through this reading, they had begun to piece together vivid subtextual, internal lives for their characters.

The following are paraphrased responses from the cast and audience (taken from my hand-written notes).

Hye Won as Ali: I think Ali wants freedom. She is so energetic; she wants to explore. But most of all, she wants a father, and I think she sees an image of her father in Lexie. She looks to Lexie as a role model because she feels the loss of her father…Lexie stands in for that lost father figure.

Jun Soo as Hector: He wants happiness, and new life. He wants to add happiness to the lives of others. Maybe he is a kind of nurturer. He wants to take care of the sisters and especially Evelyn.

Dien as Evelyn: Evelyn is really complicated. She definitely wants what is best for her family, but seems disconnected from Lexie and Ali. She’s not really tuned into what they need, even though she works so hard to try to provide that for them. She wants to be in control, but she doesn’t like being in control either. She doesn’t want to have to be in control. She’s the bread-winner, the head of the family, but that responsibility weighs on her. She has a hard time expressing herself; she’s in conflict with herself.

Jeeyun as Lexie: Maybe it sounds too vague but I think Lexie just wants to be. She has been through and experienced so much, which has been so different from what Evelyn and others see on a daily basis. How can she explain it to them? She just wants to be herself, just exist, without having to re-think…somehow she wants to take out all she’s experienced in the past five years, put it aside, and breathe. But that experience is also her crown. It’s what sets her apart from her sisters. That’s why she says, “You don’t know what I’ve been through.” She doesn’t like the war, but it’s her main accomplishment. She tries to not be aloof, but can’t express herself. She doesn’t want to fight with Evelyn, but she can’t seem to communicate in any other way. When Lexie enters a scene, things immediately get tense. She doesn’t like that this happens, but at the same time she does like it.

Seunghoon as Vaughn: He’s there to support Lexie, maybe to act as a mirror to her of her sacrifice. With the litany of all the places he has family in the world, he becomes a kind of universal soldier, someone who finds purpose everywhere. But at the same time, because he’s like a ghost, it’s as if he is nowhere. He could be Lexie’s father, but we can’t be sure. Maybe he is all the fathers who have gone to war and then can’t come home. Or they come back, but they can’t really come “home”.


Lorraine Hansberry once said, “In order to create the universal, you must pay very close attention to the specific.” Our SPARK reading allowed us to educate ourselves about military culture in the USA, and especially the challenges faced by female soldiers both during active duty and upon discharge. But even more importantly, the specific politics of SPARK allowed us to dive deep into its human landscape. Working with the cast in rehearsal and in the reading, I was immediately impressed with the students’ ability to connect with this script in a personal way, despite the great differences in age, experience, and culture between the students and the characters they portrayed. I think SPARK was so accessible because it speaks to themes that they, as international exchange students and Korean nationals living in Seoul, already know intimately: what it is like to feel in a kind of limbo between different cultures, languages, and communities; what it is like to leave your family, to grow into a different person, and then return marked by that change; what it is like to not be able to fully express your thoughts or experience to someone who is not part of your particular context. Because SPARK explores themes of departure, exile, and homecoming, it is also a play about communicating—or attempting to communicate, to various degrees of success—across those invisible yet still viscerally tangible borders that spring up between people when they find themselves separated by events and experiences for which they weren’t fully prepared. It’s also about the ethical responsibilities involved in negotiating crossings of those borders into sensitive territories of emotion and desire. That these students were able, after only one rehearsal, to start sketching the complicated emotional map of this play—and to become cartographers of their own emotional terrain—speaks greatly to SPARK’s sensitivity and appeal as not only a family but a human drama.

Claire Chambers teaches 20th Century Drama in the Department of English at Sogang University in Seoul, Korea. Her articles appear in Performance ResearchLiturgy JournalPerformance and Spirituality, and Ecumenica. She writes about intersections between religion, spiritality, theatre, cultural politics, and performance, broadly conceived. 

Reflection on Spark in New Mexico

Tricklock Theatre Company

Albuquerque, New Mexico 

November 11, 2012

Directed by Valli Rivera

                 by Casey Mráz

We held the reading on Sunday, Nov. 11 at 2 and had one rehearsal leading up to it.  We had an amazing cast and it went very well.  Then, we had a brief talkback afterwards.  The most interesting thing to come out of the talkback was hearing Joe Alberti (the actor playing Vaughn) talk about his experiences with reintegrating himself in society after serving in the military.  Joe was in the Marines in the late 70s.  Joe identified with the character of Lexie.  He talked about what it was like when you’re in the service and you have a range of shared experiences with your buddies who are also in the service.  Then, when you get back home you find yourself around people with whom you do not have those shared experiences.  The character of Vaughn was very important to him because he believed that Lexie needed him.  Only Lexie could see him and interact with him and he comes at the exact moment when Lexie needs him the most.  Every veteran needs a Vaughn.

Casey Mráz is a playwright, composer, musician, designer, teaching artist and father.  He holds an M.F.A. degree in Dramatic Writing from The University of New Mexico.  He studied playwriting at Charles University in Prague, Czech Republic through Western Michigan University.  His publications include Rosario & the Bull (Heuer Publishing Co.: Grand Rapids, Iowa) and The Cotton Plantation (Indie Theatre Now, New York, NY).  He is the Music Director for Tricklock Theatre Company (Albuquerque, NM) and a Company Member of Buran Theatre Company.


Reflection on Spark and The Way of Water

Reflections on Spark and The Way of the Water by Caridad Svich.


By Valli Marie Rivera

One after the other…I have been very lucky to have been part of the International reading schemes for The Way of Water and Spark by Caridad Svich and partners.

Spark and The Way of the Water present strong women grasping for footing in their “worlds of poverty“to bravely sustain their families. Both plays have unfolding conflicts of “war”: devastating environmental crisis and its ravishing effects on the people of US Gulf region and the other, the jolting of US far away wars and its damaging health effects on our veterans and their families back home.  The challenging health issues and poverty frames both stories. 

In these two plays, Caridad Svich’s women are real, practical, strong, and brave.  These women may differ culturally from each other, but are fearless in protecting their loved ones, and in their journey of love and support, they discover their strength and weakness, they call out for health protection and figure out ways to cope with poverty.  All their actions steer for survival against all odds. They fall and stand up again, they fight and embrace with passion, and they cry and laugh from the gut. These women are mirrors of us, the women with no boundaries.

Spark and The Way of Water are fluid expression of the strong or subdued actions that draws you in, caresses, bites and forces you out to reflect on life, families, environment, and the earth that we share.  These plays make you question why in this day and age some sectors of our communities are poverty stricken and still abandoned, why  homeless families, sick,  hungry, and forgotten heroes.  In my experience with the Albuquerque audience after both readings, the challenge of reflection was a given.   Reflecting on how each and every one of us can make a difference for change.  Reflecting on how reading schemes of Ms. Svich new plays can create awareness and open communication in the communities. Reflection on wars away and at home. Reflecting on how to care for our earth and denounce the big companies who destroy our environment.  Reflection on our strength as citizens of the earth and how our voices and words can count to make change happen.  If we talk looking at each other in the eyes, feeling the pulse and bearing our souls, trusting and being vulnerable, we are sharing our humanity.  Then art can create change.

As I dug in for the characters motivation and goals, for the play’s sub textual force, for the play own life through the actors instruments, for  honoring Caridad’s messages, for what I wanted to say through the reading of these plays, I felt an overwhelming sensation.  I felt a  wave carry me into the all-embracing water, pulling me under, swishing  me around and up and down , finally laying me quietly on the sand,  caressing my soul.

Spark and The Way of Water are plays that call for hope, faith, awareness for change, and an honest worthy life.


Valli Marie Rivera is a theatre director, actor, and educator with an MA in Theatre from SUNY Albany.  In Albuquerque for she directed The House of the Spirits by Caridad Svich for The Vortex Theatre and for Midnite Child Production The Medéa Complex by Patricia Crespín.   Other Vortex Theatre productions include Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya for spring 2010 with a fall tour throughout NM, making theatrical history; Lorca in a Green Dress by Nilo Cruz and La casa azul by Sophie Marcel.  Some directing credits for UNM’s Words Afire Festival include Casualties of Dreams and Sand by Christina Hjelm and Parts of Parts and Stitches by Riti Sachdeva.  She has directed and acted in Santa Fe with Santa Fe Playhouse, Santa Fe Performing Arts, Teatro Paraguas and Wise Fool NM.  Some of those works are Blood Wedding by Federico García Lorca, Rappaccini’s Daughter by Octavio Paz, Eyes for Consuela by Sam Shepard, and Curanderas Serpents of the Gods by Elaine Romero.  Valli is co-author of a published play, Hembra, presented in Argentina and Puerto Rico.  She trained additionally with Eugenio Barba’s Odin Teatret in Denmark, Augusto Boal, Kristin Linklater, Jacques Lecoq and Gilda Navarra.    She produced the Latin-American Popular Theater Festival (ENTEPOLA) in Puerto Rico. During her career she has performed and/or directed for theatre festivals in Argentina, Cuba, Chile, Dominican Republic, France, and New York. She is member of No PassPort and New Mexico Dramatist.





Cherry Lane Theatre, New York City

November 11, 2012 

Directed by Scott Schwartz 

Experiencing “Spark,” a new play by Caridad Svich

            by Gloria Mann 

“Spark,” a new play by Obie Award-winning playwright Caridad Svich, describes in painful, humorous, sometimes transcendent detail a closely-woven tapestry of difficult situations. With stark lenses on rural poverty, family, the loss of parents, the hopelessness and despair of a traumatized female veteran returning home to joblessness, alcoholism and the loss of meaning, Spark shows in contemporary language what happens when people are faced with complex, unanswerable situations.

With a rich language that often breaks into original and heartfelt song, the characters in “Spark” are celebrants in a ritual that acknowledges their human predicament and its emotive release. The major thread of coming home for veterans from “the Sandbox” is a uniquely modern experience that previous myths of soldiering can no longer cloak or comfort, and the play addresses this honestly and without pat solutions. Above all, “Spark” is a story of the pains, losses and lifetime bonds of sisterhood and its triumph.

The recent Veterans’ Day reading of this remarkable play produced at New York’s venerable Cherry Lane Theater, directed by Scott Schwartz with a remarkable cast including Louis Cancelmi, Peter Jay Fernandez, Marin Ireland and Jocelyn Kuritsky, upheld the angst and art of these intertwined human issues to the light for all to see.   

In my reading of “Evelyn” (the eldest sister), I appreciated how the character matched the play’s “coming home” story with a parallel “left behind” theme. Evelyn’s desperate struggle to maintain a sense of home and family against the grinding poverty of her situation shows that even flawed courage and integrity have value, and ultimately provide something for her veteran sister to come home to despite all odds.

Gloria Mann was an actor/producer (TECL and Mannatee Films) of the Spark reading at the Cherry Lane Theater, New York, November 11, 2012



MOXIE Productions, Burlington, VT

November 4, 2012 

Directed by Monica Callan 

      by Emily George Lyons

For our reading of Spark by Caridad Svich on November 4th in Burlington, VT, two female veterans, one military wife, and a Vietnam veteran were in the audience. The two female vets spoke for a Q&A after the play. Both of them remarked how Spark was spot-on in its honest portrayal of the struggle of a soldier to fit back into society and the family's to understand this new person coming home. One of the female vets said “it was uncanny” how the desciptions and imagery used by Svich, correlated to her experience of flying over Iraq - thinking there were trees looming in the distance and realizing they were giant flames of fire. She went on to say how the opening scene - where the older sister, Evelyn, is insisting on a homecoming party for the younger sister, Lexie, who has just come back from Iraq - made her squirm with its believable portrayal. The Vietnam veteran in the audience had to catch himslef for a minute before he was able to speak over his emotions. This brought to light one of the beautiful things about Svich's play. That, although it is about 3 sisters, it hits home with male veterans and family members as well. It is universal in its themes yet grounded in gritty reality. The military wife chimed in to say that she could see herself in those moments with Evelyn and Lexie. Even though it was two sisters, it was still a similar experience with she and her husband - wondering when he was going to "get back to normal" not yet realizing that this was the new normal. For myself, being able to read Evelyn in such an environment was one of the most rewarding theatrical experiences of my life. After hearing the dsicussion it had sparked and the emotions it had provoked, I knew we had touched them to a profound extent. Spark gives veterans and their families a voice, it lets them know they are not alone, and creates a profoundly healing environment. It was an honor to be a part of it.

Emily George Lyons is an film and theatre actor and voiceover artist 


Reflection on Spark at University of Washington


   University of Washington-Seattle Dept. of Theatre in collaboration with The Hansberry Project

   November 7, 2012 

   Directed by Val Curtis Newton 

         By Shaunyce Omar


I had the pleasure of participating in the reading of SPARK in honor of Veteran's Day.  The play is written by Caridad Svich and was directed by Valerie Curtis Newton.   SPARK is a drama set in small town U.S.A.  It follows the lives of 3 sisters as they try to reunite the family after one has served in the recent war.   As well as, magnifying the issues soldiers face upon returning to civilian life.  I played the eldest sister Evelyn, who tries to create a "perfect" place/home for her soldier sister to return to.  As I reflect on my experience playing Evelyn.  I am reminded of so many women who try to hold their families together by squeezing as tight as they can, only to suffocate them and themselves.  SPARK captures her insecurities, fears and pain, while showing us how it has manifested into a "nit picking" anger.  Evelyn almost can't help herself.  If something is not quite perfect, she must attempt to make the adjustment.  I loved playing her because between her rants she has a few vulnerable moments.  It is then we see her true love for her family.  

Kudos to the playwright for creating not only entertaining theatre, but intelligent work that focuses on the difficult homecoming for our soldiers. Also I had a wonderful ensemble to work with and director to lead me, who I believe caught the vision of the script and helped us find it as well! 

A Native of Seattle, Shaunyce holds a B.A degree in Theatre from Southern University.  Some of her credits include Hattie McDaniel in HI HAT HATTIE “Power Woman” in MENOPAUSE THE MUSICAL- National Tour.  Evilene in THE WIZ,  Barbara Jordan  in I, BARBARA JORDAN, originating the role of Candy in REJOICE!, Jeannette in CROWNS, Ida B. Wells 4 in CONSTANT STAR, Lou Bessie in THE OLD SETTLER & Pastor Margaret in AMEN CORNER. 

Reflection on Spark at Cummins Theater

Ensemble Free Theater Norway in collaboration with Cummins Theatre, Merredin, Western Australia

November 11, 2012 

Directed by Brendan McCall 

       By Brendan McCall 

What theme or aspect of SPARK most excite or connect with the work that you do? 

Unfortunaltey, much of our public dialogue (in the media, in culture, in our communities) here in the Whetbelt does not focus on the stories of contemporary war veterans, except when there is tragedy - such as the recent deaths of Australians in Afghanistan last month. The stories of female veterans are even more absent, specifically; as well as the impact on the families of veterans. My interest in participating in this global reading of Spark was to ignite a greater awareness of these issues with our communit and hopefully create a meaningful dialogue. 

The SPARK scheme is community building (in a worldwide sense) set of readings. What is one place, organizaiton, or person in your city that that supports your theatre work? And whart makes that place, organization or person special? This could be a bar or restaurant that supports your theatre patrons, a local community group that supports your work, or a volunteer who is invaluable to your organizaiton. 

The Cummins Theatre is supported by a variety of groups - from our arts-centered community groups (The Merredin Repertory Club, the Merredin Fine Arts Society), as well as the organizations such as our local government, community resource centers, and local businesses. We also have a number of dedicated volunteers throughout the community that gernously give their time and energy to insure that the Theatre conintues to offer a variety of cultural products and activities. 

What's Next For Your Company? 

The Cummins Theatre has an exciting array of touring shows coming to town, from Ireland's Tumble Circus combining circus with comedy and theatre; to Italy's Luca Ciarla performing electric violin to live animation of Fiddler in the Loop. We're also proud to host the Melbourne International Comedy Festival Roadshow again this year, as well as a new dance/theater work from Buzz Dance Theater, Goodbye Jamie Boyd.  We're also offering live simulcasts of events from Black Swan State Theatre Company and West Australian Symphony Orchestra, a new film festival in March, and the creation of new regional and international artists residency programs. 

Brendan McCall is the Artistic Director of Ensemble Free Theater Norway and the Manager of The Cummins Theatre in Western Australia.