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Reflection on Spark in London

Signdance Collective International and Middlesex University, London, UK

Directed by Pedro DeSenna

November 23, 2012

                                               by Isolte Avila

The reading of SPARK at Midlesex University, London, with the company Signdance Collective International was very interesting!  

The Language  in the play is curious to British ears and as a company of Deaf and hearing performers, the piece presents a challange even upon reading it,  BUT the SPARK. Reading was a hit! AND ... Everyone LOVED it ... The students and the company. Most of the company managed to use sign/theatre all the way through. The soldier/feminine sort hero of the show was greatly appreciated and there was much discussion about how refreshing it was to have a soldier girl presented /represented.

Some of the songs /cadances and prose were managed beautifully I think by sdc's combo of signtheatre and improvisationary nature of our work .
I could see space for dance in the show, even the stage descriptions and objects coming from signdance:

The  house,the storm, the rain the heat ... 

The cadances from the army, the lovepoems to and from a dead mamma ... 


The only problem was that we should have given ourselves a break in the middle, as it was quite exausting esp.with the deaf , hearing combo, going all the way through in one go! 

THANKYOU ... and a BIG Congratulations 

Isolte Avila is the dance director/dance/dance educator of Signdance Collective International. Isolte trained with the Cuban Ballet and The Netherlands Dance Theatre. She has a degree in Dance from California Institute of the Arts, where she won a scholarship from the Disney Foundation. She is fluent in BSL grass roots signing and is learning international sign. She has worked with choreographers: Ismael Ivo 1995-1998, Stuttgart Ballet, Milton Meyers, Alvin Ailey since 1985, Carlos Orta Limon Dance Company 1997-1999 and Ornella D'Agostino Carovana SMI 2002-2008.

Her acting experience includes playing Freda Kahlo in Liz Crow's award winning film. Recently she has been working alongside BBC Radio 4 as associate artist on A Small Piece Of Silence, and Dragonfly directed by Sue Roberts, as well as Shall I Say A Kiss directed by Polly Thomas

She is the founder of the art form signdance, managing and developing the signdance trust through from 1987 - 2000 .

In  2001 she formed Signdance Collective with actor David Bower. Isolte tours and performs internationally with SDC.Within the U.K  She has lead several education projects for the Cultural Olympiad and for London 2012 including the ICARUS Project with Driving Inspiration and an Opening Ceremony Project for London 2012 .


Reflection on Spark in Baltimore

Theatre Project and Bump in the Road

November 12, 2012

Directed by Carmela Lanza-Weil 

                                               By Carmela Lanza-Weil 

Bump In the Road Theatre dedicates its work to encouraging discussion about difficult, under-examined and/or important issues.  When the invitation to produce a reading of “Spark” came into view, I felt an immediate connection and acted on producing a reading in Baltimore.  

Working on the reading inspired me to contact several groups dedicated to supporting veterans to introduce them to the project and invite their attendance and participation.  At the advent of the project, I envisioned introducing the veterans to the idea of theatre as an instrument of support, a vehicle for social change, and a way to gather community in ways they had perhaps not previously considered.

But as I spoke with soldiers at the VA, members of a veteran artists organization (one of whom ended up reading the role of Lexie), and a women-veterans group in the beginning organizational stage (although with already over forty members), I learned about other projects that spoke to their experiences, as well.  Two examples include Towson University’s month-long film series dedicated to the veteran experience and “The Telling Project” which involves creating a theatre piece from stories provided by soldiers, their families, and friends.  Many of the Veterans I spoke with thanked me for “thinking of them” and making the effort to bring their story to light.  I found this humbling, troubling, and provoking; their words made me realize somehow the extent to which our returning warriors feel invisible and under-valued when they return home.

After our reading on Monday night (Nov. 12), we held a talkback.  A young woman in the audience spoke first.  She had very recently returned from one of our current conflicts and she felt compelled to stay afterwards to share her experience and to let us know how the play touched her heart and made her feel a bit less alone, for at least a little while.  She is a mom of a four-year old little boy who almost forgot her during her tours; her marriage dissolved and, in her words, her life collapsed.  But she also said that the reading of the play brought her some comfort.  She felt her story was on that stage and that someone cared enough to write it, present it, and talk about it.

That is the reason I do this work.  It matters.  It is important.  And if only for the sake of one person in the audience, it is enough.  Thank you, Caridad, for the making the scheme available and allowing at least one soldier in Baltimore to feel a little less alone and a great deal more appreciated. 


Carmela Lanza-Weil is producing artistic director of Bump in the Road Theatre,

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. 


New November 2012 title from Santa Catalina Editions, an imprint of NoPassport:
by Caridad Svich
Astral Yearning,
Elysium at 3 AM,
Slow Fast Walking on the Red Eye,
Transmission 0500/To the Blue Peninsula,
Turn the Dark Up, Bow Down, This is a Hymn
The six plays in this collection are a series of meditations on love, time, virtuality, and transience in the modern world. They focus mainly on young characters drifting through their lives, and in and out of relationships. These theatre pieces are written as little spells of love. They bristle with both poison and enchantment, as they send their characters into orbit. What they ask, in sometimes ardently pure text, is for a new kind of theatre language to be born- out of and through aspects of love.
ISBN: 978-1-300-42880-0
retail: $20.00



by matthew paul olmos
"What ensues is a complex encounter that challenges notions of boundary, safety, identity and what you would do for your family. It's a dissection of difference, of connection, of the borders and barriers we use to distance ourselves, and those dangerous moments when we cross over those borders and barriers.”
--Philip Himberg, Producing Artistic Director, Sundance Theatre Institute

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