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Reflection on Spark in London (#2)

Signdance Collective International and Middlesex University, London, UK

Directed by Pedro de Senna

Performed part spoken/part in British Sign Language

November 23, 2012

                                   by Pedro de Senna

For the actors of SignDance Collective International, it was a challenge: reading Spark, with its American idioms and specificities, whilst signing in British Sign Language (BSL) involved a simultaneous, double process of interpretation. Caridad Svich’s writing is so grounded in a lexical reality (her ear is so close to the ground), that a transposition from a localised American hearing culture to British Deaf culture – or rather, the superimposition of the two – was nearly impossible.


The small audience of Theatre Arts students at Middlesex University (all non-signers) were impressed. The fluency, beauty and sheer expressivity of the Sign Language lent the characters a gestural poesy – even at a “reading” – that heightened the text’s earthy naturalism. Isolte Ávila’s interpretation revealed an underlying sensuality in Evelyn’s pathos; she constantly signed, in a tour-de-force that left her exhausted physically and mentally. Laura Goulden (Lexie) and Francesca Osimani (Ali) completed the trio of sisters, whose signing punctuated and strengthened their characters’ already forceful temperaments. David K. Bower gave Hector a softness in his signing, charming the audience with his warmth. Sign Language happens in space, and is inherently performative. If David Mamet once claimed that “there is no character, there are just lines on the page”, here the lines acquire their own physicality, they are embodied in their very utterance. In contrast, my own reading of Vaughn, the most other-worldly of the characters in the play, was subdued.

I can’t sign.

In a sense, this dichotomy served the purposes of the play and highlighted Vaughn’s difference, in a kind of via negativa. His dis-embodiment was more acutely present. This was the paradox of the reading: that the character who is furthest from the ground was given the least heightened of performances. Or, to put it from another angle: that the heightening provided by BSL somehow anchored the signing characters to the world of the play.

This was made possible because of the nature of Sign Language, but also because of the quality in the writing itself. Even in their most naturalistic, Caridad Svich’s plays never lose sight of the super-natural, and the author finds poetry in the most mundane of details, like the cigarette butt that is dropped and then picked up again by someone else. Or the strike of lightning that is also a spark of love in a car dealership.


When asked, after the reading, what they thought the play was about, an audience member said: “It’s about conflict in all its forms.” Conflict, expressed in these binomials through which the writer so aptly navigates: natural and super-natural, personal and political, male and female, the dead and the living, army cadences and church-hymns, fighting and flirting. And all of which were given life in the beautiful gaps between speaking and signing.

Pedro de Senna is a theatre practitioner and academic. He was born in Rio de Janeiro, where he started performing in 1993, and he has been a member of SignDance Collective since 2010. He is a lecturer in Contemporary Theatre Theory and Practice at Middlesex University.


Reflection on Spark at Florida Gulf Coast University

Florida Gulf Coast University Dept of Theatre, Fort Myers, FL

November 26, 2012

Directed by Armando Rivera 

                                                     by Dr. Michelle Hayford

FGCU’s TheatreLab hosted a staged reading of Caridad Svich’s SPARK on November 26, 2012.  This event brought together two student organizations that had not worked together previously: Eagle Theatre and Students Who Served. Also present were community members who were drawn to our theatre for the first time due to their interest in veterans’ issues or because they themselves were veterans.  The student actors felt a significant responsibility to do the script and the characters justice as they were representing experiences that veterans in the audience could relate to first-hand. 

Theatre major Armando Rivera directed the staged reading of SPARK, injecting startling staging to highlight moments of connection and violence.  Student actors were Rachel Bennett (Evelyn), Jackie DeGraaff (Lexie), Hanny Zuniga (Ali), Adrian Serrano (Hector), Jake Scott-Hodes (Vaughn), and Clare Edlund (reader).  Rachel Bennett (Evelyn) appreciated Svich’s “fresh take on the language of the south,” while Jackie DeGraaff (Lexie) thought it was “interesting to find similarities in my life to a veteran’s life.”  Michael Bridges, an FGCU theatre major in audience was inspired by the event, saying “this play was a great example of how theatre can bring people together on social issues.”  Armando Rivera was able to illuminate the beauty of the language and the subtle intimacies between the characters of SPARK, making bold choices that served the play well.  The unfolding romance between “Evelyn” and “Hector” was a joyful release and Jake Scott-Hodes’s interpretation of “Vaughn” was haunting for its deity-like rousing delivery of the “spectre’s” monologue.

The post-performance panel discussion featured five panelists, four of whom were veterans (2 men and 2 women) and Dr. Christine Wright-Isak, the faculty advisor of the Students Who Served organization for student veterans.  Two of the veterans were FGCU students, one was an FGCU staff member and another was a community member who works for the Red Cross’s Service to Armed Forces.  I developed the panel discussion questions with my colleague Brandon Kliewer, whose expertise in civic engagement theory contributed to the success of the panel discussion.  The panel began by reflecting on “Lexie’s” welcome-back dinner failure and the difficulty of coming home, after which each veteran was asked what kind of support they needed when returning from war.  The questions continually used SPARK as the jumping off point for discussion and context to data we provided regarding the economics of recruitment, poverty, mental health, and gender roles in the military. 

Happily, the panel discussion lasted the same length of time as the play itself, and audience, panelists and actors lingered even after the panel was over to make personal introductions and share stories more intimately.  I knew the night was a success when at 11:30pm, as I walked to the parking lot with Dr. Wright-Isak, she shared with me that the young woman veteran who had served in Afghanistan had in no small way been opened up and heard that night.  It is clear that the theatre had been host to a collective journey that evening, as audience members who knew little of veterans’ experiences at the start of the performance walked away enlightened by the panelists’ sharing of how best the community can support them.  Most importantly, the student veterans let the other students in audience know how to interact with veterans in their classes and on campus, revealing vulnerabilities that many had overlooked.  And I was moved by a veteran seated next to me throughout the play and in the front row during the panel who eagerly nodded his head as the characters’ experiences and panelists’ comments resonated with him.  He was one of the last to leave the theatre that night. 

I thank Caridad Svich and No Passport theatre alliance for sharing this compelling new play with communities to honor veterans locally and allow for the theatre to function as the democratic space it is in a vital and moving way.  The actors’ faithful portrayal of SPARK’s characters “set the stage” for the panelists’ open hearts and willingness to share—it was a beautiful event that benefitted all in attendance and will have a further reach as those of us who were there share what we learned.

Michelle Hayford is the Theatre Program Leader and Assistant Professor of Theatre in FGCU’s Department of Theatre and Visual Arts. She primarily teaches performance theory courses using performance as a methodology. Professor Hayford’s research interests include applied theatre, ethnodrama, performativity in everyday life and identity, gender, and embodied ways of knowing. Professor Hayford is committed to interdisciplinary inquiry and bringing theory into practice through performance. Dr. Hayford directs the Performance Constellation series of original ensemble productions based on interview narratives. The Constellation ethnodramas combine her passions of creating live plays with utilizing the craft of theatre as a necessary response to community and civic engagement.



Spark at UC Santa Barbara

UC Santa Barbara

November 12, 2012

Produced and Dramaturged by Jacqueline Viskup

Directed by Kellyn Johnson

                                                     by Jacqueline Viskup

Post-staged reading I find myself reflecting on the way Spark deals with the notion of liminality.  Liminality, to reference Victor Turner, is the space “betwixt and between.”  First of all, Lexie as a female soldier occupies a space betwixt and between traditional gendered roles.  Lexie also occupies a liminal space as a veteran of war.  She cannot pass back through time to her life before the military, nor can she move into the next phase of her life.  She has no job, no prospects, even her senses fail her.  The community at large knows not what to do with her. So she waits, not necessarily passively, in this liminal state.

In the talkback to our reading I asked the audience: what is the impact of seeing a female gendered body in Lexie’s more aggressive scenes?  Many audience members replied that her gender did not matter, that she was read as a veteran of war.  A fellow graduate student pointed out the problem that Lexie’s gender is always both there and not there.  Lexie must move between the machine-like body of the aggressive soldier (read: male) and the ever-present otherness of her female gendered body (as we see in the constant circulation of news coverage of gender inequality and sexual assault in the military).  In rites of passage, liminality is an often ambiguous or even invisible state.  Scene two, when Lexie boxes with the night sky, is the most poignant expression of the violence of the liminal space.  Here Lexie wrestles with her demons, but also, as an aggressive female enacting intense militaristic violence to her own body, forces audiences to confront ambiguity head on.

Perhaps Lexie’s liminality also serves as a key to how Spark can help cultivate dialogue about our current wars and the real harm it does to bodies here in the U.S.  Liminality, as part of a rite of passage, is a stage one must pass through in order to achieve the desired result of the ritual.  Spark is rife with ritual, whether song, cadence, reading twigs, fighting, or even gathering together at the table.  Theatre is a ritual; we come together, go through a journey, and come out altered in some way.  And rehabilitation, for an individual, a community, and a nation needs some sort of ritual to carry us through the process.  But, like the internal and external wounds that mark a soldier, we must remember that to rehabilitate is to learn to move with the wound.  Lexie regains her hunger, but this does not alleviate her struggle. Another audience member, a member of the US military, noted that in the process of reintegration, the soldier and their family must accept that life will never be the same; families must learn new ways of relating to each other.  In the same vein America needs to recognize and accept that these wars are still part of our national identity, and must not be ignored, however painful, as part of the rehabilitation process. 

Jacqueline Viskup is a PhD student in the Department of Theater & Dance at U.C. Santa Barbara.  Her academic research interrogates how the image of the female soldier can be read semiotically and politically in 21st century performances about women in the U.S. military.  Jacqueline teaches acting, theatre history, and social action theatre.  She also directs and dramaturges.  She received a Bachelor of Arts in Theatre from Drew University, and a Master of Arts in Theatre from University of Oregon.

A Reflection on SPARK in Pittsburgh

University of Pittsburgh

Directed by Lisa Jackson-Schebetta

November 12, 2012

                               by Dr. Lisa Jackson-Schebetta
Our first rehearsal was like any first rehearsal for a staged reading—introductions, clarifications about where to sit in the reading, which stage directions to read, and so forth.   At the act break, we had a chat about the play, about the mundanity of daily life that it depicts—and we meant mundanity in the very best way.  The details of the fabric of daily life, the intimate tones of voice, the specific language patterns and the miscommunications of a family who know each other so well sometimes, and so not at all others.  The cider, the cake, the needle and thread.  Personal histories bound up with, chafing against, tangling with the here and now, both immediate and more largely.  At the end of act two, we commented on more of the same and also how Vaughn throws all of the above into sharp, sharp relief: histories and maps, personal and cultural, as inextricably linked to wars, present and past.  We then found our way into a conversation about how war had personally been a part of our lives, sharing stories that aren’t the sort you share at a first read through.  Of, to borrow from Tim O’Brien, things carried by us, or loved ones.  The piece opened something in each of us.  
For me, as an artist and a teacher, it also reminded me that, sometimes, in theatre classrooms, war and veterans aren’t always mindfully acknowledged, discussed, represented.  At another institution, where I taught acting, an ROTC student came to me and asked if I might have some recommendations for the acting scene.  
The student was not a theatre major and was hoping for a play that engaged with the complex experiences of soldiers. The student feared he might only come across anti-war, anti-military and, perhaps implicitly, anti-soldier plays. Working on Caridad Svich’s Spark reminded me to be mindful.  How in so many ways war could or might sit, silent or silenced, in my classroom.  
Lisa Jackson-Schebetta holds a PhD in Theatre History, Criticism and Theory from the University of Washington and an MFA from Virginia Commonwealth University.  Her research interests center on histories and theories of performance and theatre in the Americas and Spain, the ethics of citizenship, and corporeality.  Her directing work has been seen at The Women’s Project and Productions, chashama, HERE and the American Globe Theatre, among others.

Reflection on Spark in Nacogdoches, TX

Stephen F. Austin State University Dept. of Theatre, Nacogdoches, TX

November 26, 2012

Directed by  Jason Davids Scott

                                               by Jason Davids Scott 

What appealed to you about the SPARK reading scheme? Why did you join in?

The purposes were both practical and personal.  On a practical level, our school has made a commitment to get involved in more production activity outside of our mainstage season and student-directed plays.  A relatively low-impact event like a play reading is perfect for that mandate – especially when it allows us the opportunity to share the work of a well-known playwright and feature a new play.  Feeling “connected” to all of the other schools and companies producing the play this month was a very nice bonus.

On a more personal level, I share Caridad’s concern about the way our nation understands and discusses veteran’s issues.  My stepfather was a Vietnam veteran and former POW:  he committed suicide in our home in 2008, and my final, desperate conversation with him included many references to the nearly four decades of PTSD he suffered as a result of his ordeal (not so much as a victim of violence, but as one who killed “enemy” civilians).  Recovering from the trauma of his suicide is an ongoing issue for me and my mother (who is a social worker and psychologist), so this was some way to bring that very personal issue to the forefront and connect me to the material.

Tell us about your reading – the key players, your space, anything you think will give people an idea about what you’re doing. 

We performed the play in our “Downstage” theatre, our “black box” space, to an audience of about 30.  A thunderstorm warning (and the remnants of the Thanksgiving Holiday) may have kept our numbers down, but several professors from our department came, as well as many interested students.  One of the advantages of our production was that we got to enlist the talent of our new professor of acting, Laura Rikard, a South Carolina native who instantly connected to the character of Evelyn (“She’s my sister,” says Laura), and was able to coach the rest of our cast on accents.  We also are blessed at this school to have actor Brad Maule (who was on “General Hospital” for several years) as an instructor, and he had the perfect voice and persona for the character of Vaughn.  This allowed four students (one reading the narration) the opportunity to work closely with two established professionals. 

Our production was very low-key; we had simple lighting changes between the scenes.  Until the scene with Vaughn, the four main characters (the sisters and Hector) all sat on stage reading from the script on music stands; during scene two, Ingunn Kristjansdottir (an Icelandic native on exchange through a drama program in England, who was cast as Lexie) got up and acted out the shadowboxing.  For scene seven, the three actors besides Ingunn retreated to the background and Brad Maule came forward for the Lexie-Vaughn scene.  In scene 8, the two sisters returned to the lighted space as Brad retreated.

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

As mentioned, it is always thrilling to present new work.  Our school hosts a Festival of New American Plays every other Spring (the next will be Spring 2014), curated by playwright-in-residence Jack Heifner, who has previously debuted works-in-progress by writers such as John Cariani, Constance Congdon, Barbara Lebow, David Ives, and others.  While the time frame for SPARK was out of synch with that festival, it was nice to be able to “cash in” a bit on that culture.  More than one audience member came to me and said how “special” they felt to be hearing a completely new work right here in small town East Texas.

But as mentioned, on a personal level, I connect deeply to the themes of how returning soldiers process their lives in service once they are at home.  The scene between Vaughn and Lexie rings so true for me, particularly Vaughn’s mention of “dead babies” and the litany of “relations” he has left in battle sites all over the world.  His final speech, explaining his prayer to the gods for the strength to keep living, hits particularly hard:  that prayer is one I know that my stepfather made hundreds if not thousands of times, until the day when finally the gods didn’t answer him.  I witnessed the final hour of his life up close, pleading with him to reconsider, and Vaughn’s words echo the intensity and desperation of John’s final moments.  I made that same prayer, sadly to no avail, which makes it even more important that I was able to help  (in this very small way) remind a few people in our community about how important it is to hear that prayer.

At the conclusion of the reading, I reminded the audience of a line from Saul Bellow’s “Seize the Day,” drawn from a very different context, but relevant.  At a moment where the conversation between two people drops off, the narrator remarks about all of the secrets that the two men knew about each other but could not say.  “None of this could be mentioned, and the great weight of the unspoken left them with little to talk about.”  The weight of the unspoken in SPARK – the sisters’ avoidance of discussing any details, Vaughn’s admonition to “never give the full run-down,” the discussion about hiding away the memories, the ways in which unseen characters like Barry ignore the war and its implications – is what gives the play its life and meaning.  I hope that I would have been able to recognize it even if I had not necessarily lived it with my stepfather, but having been there next to someone who is being crushed by the weight of the unspoken, I can testify to its terrible power.

The SPARK scheme is a community building (in a worldwide sense) set of readings. What is one place, organization or person in your city or town that supports your theatre work? And what 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 organization.

We get okay local support but this is not a theatre town.  We are fortunate to have a Dean (A.C. “Buddy” Himes) who is supportive of theatre in general, and good relationships with our provost (Richard Barry, who has appeared as an actor in some of our productions) and other departments in the University.  Our local Ford dealership (Tipton Ford) helps sponsor some of our events, but by and large we are here to serve our student community (including about 140 undergraduate majors and 20 minors in theatre). 

What’s next for your company this season?

The week after SPARK went up was busy for me, as I directed (and helped the students write) an original Christmas show for the local holiday festival.  Next semester, our mainstage shows as “Stage Door” (which will be directed by Jack Heifner) and Charles Mee’s “bobrauschenbergamerica” (which I will direct).  We are also scheduled to put on 9 or 10 student-directed shows; another show from the Fredonia Players (which produces original work by students, the same group that did the Xmas show); and possibly a show featuring faculty talent.  We like to keep busy. 

Jason Davids Scott is an assistant professor in the School of Theatre at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas, where he teaches courses in film history, play analysis, and acting.  He received his BFA in Cinema Studies from New York University and his MA and Ph.D. in Theatre from the University of California Santa Barbara.  His scholarly work includes reviews in the Journal of Popular Culture and contributions to the Mid-Atlantic Almanack, and he has written several entries for the upcoming Cambridge Encyclopedia of Stage Actors and Acting.  His directing credits include “Steel Magnolias” and “bobrauschenbergamerica” at Stephen F. Austin State University, and several original productions with the UCSB New Plays Festival and the SFA comedy/variety troupe the (New) Original Cast.  He is past president of the Mid-Atlantic Popular/American Culture Association, where he has served as an area chair and on the executive board for six years.

A Reflection on Spark in Santa Fe

DNAWORKS and Teatro Paraguas in Partnersip with the Sante Fe Art Instutitue and the Performing Arts Conservatory of the Southwest, Sante Fe, NM

November 14, 2012 

Directed by Daniel Banks                                            
                                        by Daniel Banks
On November 14, 2012, a consortium of local arts organizations in Santa Fe, NM, hosted a reading of Caridad Svich's play SPARK with Teatro Paraguas, including DNAWORKS, Performing Arts Conservatory of the Southwest (PACS), and Santa Fe Art Institute. The storefront theatre was packed with an audience representing Santa Fe’s multiple populations whom do not typically interact in this way. Part of the draw was the actors’ contacts, part was the venue’s followers, and a major attraction was the subject matter with the promise of a dialogue afterwards with “local women impacted by war.”
The cast of New Mexico actors – including Nicole Gramlich, Kate Kita, Elias Gallegos, Nicholas Ballas and Lesley Reveles – inhabited the characters and the world of the play.  Guitarist Jaime Martinez provided transitions using the evocative melodies that Caridad provided, which the actors also sang.  There were audible gasps from the audience at particular moments of recognition and pathos. And the dialogue that followed, moderated by local writer/activist Lenore Gallegos, included a woman whose daughter is currently in basic training, the Vietnam veteran father of one of the actors, and one of the actors and her sister whose father and brother are both veterans.  The conversation focused on PTSD and how families also suffer from post-traumatic stress.  The audience had the opportunity to hear stories from within the larger Santa Fe community that many had not heard before; and veterans in the audience were also acknowledged and heard.
Nicolas Ballas, a local veteran actor who completely captured the role of Vaughn, shares:  “There's an unfolding in the acting process that occurs when I have the opportunity to breathe a voice into the words I have been given on a sheet of paper.  With SPARK, Vaughn's personal language was the voice of pain and damage wrapped in the lyrical drawl of the south.  It wasn't until I actually felt the language emerging from my body that I understood the man's shattered heart.  What a wonderful opportunity to share that discovery in a healing process with an audience!” 
And Stefany G. Burrows, the associate producer of the event, writes, “The play clearly moved the audience in a variety of ways, but particularly in terms of the plight of veterans returning from combat. I found the songs to be especially powerful as integral parts of the play and the characters.  I love how the dialogue moves so organically and swiftly – until it doesn't.  The rhythm of a play/scene is so critical, and this play makes great use of it. The relationships and the characters grow and change very believably. In the reading process, I was particularly struck by how invisible the female veterans are – at least here in NM.  Apparently one female vet who came to the reading left at intermission because she found it too stressful.  I wonder about whether and how these women are getting the help they need.  This play has the potential to bring this issue out into the open in a heartfelt and powerful way.  The experience overall deepened my concern for the men and women returning from combat.  As a Quaker, I cannot condone war in any way.  It is incomprehensible to me that we send anyone to war.  And I see the damage to our veterans.  I am appalled and grieved by it.”
Thank you to Caridad and No Passport for providing a forum for this timely and healing conversation, and for writing such powerful and haunting characters.  It is clear from the comments I have received that the people who were present at the reading and dialogue were changed by it.
Daniel Banks, 12-3-12
Daniel Banks is co-founder of DNAWORKS and the editor of Say Word!: Voices from Hip-Hop Theatre published by University of Michigan Press.  Daniel Banks, Ph.D., is a theatre director, choreographer, educator, and dialogue facilitator. He has worked extensively in the U.S. and abroad, having directed at such notable venues as the National Theatre of Uganda (Kampala), the Belarussian National Drama Theatre (Minsk), The Market Theatre (Johannesburg, South Africa), the Hip Hop Theatre Festival (New York and Washington, D.C.), the Oval House (London), and served as choreographer/movement director for productions at New York Shakespeare Festival/Shakespeare in the Park, Singapore Repertory Theatre, La Monnaie/De Munt (Brussels), Landestheater (Saltzburg), Aaron Davis Hall (Harlem), and for Maurice Sendak/The Night Kitchen.

A Reflection on Spark in St. Louis

Conservatory of Theatre Arts, Webster University, St. Louis

November 20, 2012 

Directed by Michael Fling

                            by Michael Fling 

When I first received the draft of Spark, I was immediately nervous. Such contemporary pieces are not really my forte, and the topic of veterans returning home was not something I knew firsthand. However, at the core, Spark’s story is about family, and I’m a sucker for a good family drama. As the actors and I began to explore the text, we found how natural the dialogue was and how deeply we could go with the language. Since we did minimal staging, it was a treat for us to dive into the text and see how much we could bring out in the words. Because of this process, I felt liberated as a director and I really loved being able to share our finished product. However, it was the audience response that really made all of the work worthwhile. We were fortunate enough to have a group of female veterans attend the performance. After the reading, they walked up to our actors with tears in their eyes, with nothing but positive things to say about the play and our work and how important is was to them. Their reaction is what I’ll take away from the reading. At the end of the day, sharing veterans’ stories and their struggles proved more important to me than worrying about more elaborate staging or more perfectly crafted moments. As one of our audience members pointed out, “It’s refreshing to hear a story about war focused on female relationships and the personal sacrificing of families during and post war time.” We were grateful for the opportunity to participate in a project that allowed us to illuminate such stories and such heroes.

Michael Fling is currently a Sophomore in the Directing program at Webster University's Conservatory of Theatre Arts. Some of his favorite directing credits include Into the Woods (Webster), The Music Man and Seussical (Brook Fine Arts) as well as assistant directing A Gnome for Christmas at The Repertory Theatre of St Louis. Michael also has extensive acting credits including Dogberry in Much Ado About Nothing, Antipholus of Ephesus in The Comedy of Errors, The Caterpillar in Alice in Wonderland, and Lt. Frank Cioffi in Curtains. Michael is continually thankful to his friends and family for their unending support and love. 


A Reflection on SPARK at UCSB

University of California-Santa Barbara

November 12, 2012

Directed by Kellyn Johnson, producer/dramaturg: Jackie Viskup

                                     by Kane Anderson 

Vaughn was one of the more difficult roles I’ve played. He offers a flicker of non-realism in a piece largely grounded in the aesthetic of realism. While the text does not provide an explicit statement of who/what Vaughn is, I conceived the role as the personification of all those soldiers returning from war. Unlike those other characters committed to a singularly personal point of view, Vaughn perceives Lexie’s situation as part of a larger panorama of Americans returning from war (alive or otherwise). 
Because we approached the play reading as Story Theatre, I remained onstage throughout the reading, and shared the stage directions with the audience. This provided Vaughn with the appearance of limited omniscience so I played the role as though he knew the answers even before he asked Lexie the questions. He knows what Lexie feels because he’s seen it (lived it?) in many others before this interaction. But at the same time, Vaughn recognizes that each story is precious and personal. Each moment he shares with Lexie is in honorable service to those who no longer have moments to share. 
While the play ends with a suggestion that reintegration is possible, the outcomes for Lexie are still uncertain. My objective in her scene with Vaughn concerned helping Lexie make her choice about whether to go on living and fighting and suffering, or end it all in a mighty splash. I spoke with our director Kellyn and our dramaturg Jackie about how we didn’t see the encounter with Vaughn as a “talking cure” for all that ails Lexie; instead, this scene actualizes Lexie’s difficult step on a longer journey. It was important to me that Vaughn be open to either possible outcome from his exchange. Even though he encourages her to go on living and keep fighting, he will honor Lexie no matter what. He does not judge. He’s seen too much. 
It’s not lost on me that in the case of Lexie—and many other returning soldiers—a whole new fight begins after the battling ends. I found in Vaughn’s speeches a bit of appreciation for Christian suffering. With the concept of suffering as redemptive and transformative guiding me, I discovered the link in how the boot camp/drill sergeant imagery transitions to a Southern preacher’s spirited rousing. With this, I encountered a spiritual component in military service that felt very special to me, the actor. I confess that I’m embarrassingly out of touch of what a warrior in our armed services faces both at home and away. The realization of this spirituality, and the bond built from the shared experiences that so few can ever understand, humbled me. 
Playing Vaughn in this Veteran’s Day reading of SPARK at UCSB allowed me in some small way to give back to a community that I’ve regrettably allowed, or even unwittingly encouraged, to become invisible. To those men and women of our armed forces: while I cannot repay what you’ve given, you give us all hope. The least we can do is give some back to you.
Kane Anderson is an actor, teacher, and scholar studying popular culture and performance. He will complete his PhD at UC Santa Barbara this year with his dissertation titled "Truth, Justice and the Performative Way!" Superhero Performance and Anxieties of Cultural Change in 21st Century America. He also holds an MFA in Theatre Performance from Arizona State University and teaches acting, directing, and writing. 

A Reflection on SPARK in Boston (#2)

Atomic Age Theatre and Emerson College, Boston, MA

October 30, 2012

Directed by Noelle Vinas

                                                     by Noelle Vinas

I’m from Northern Virginia. That normally means privilege, government jobs, military money, and one of the most affluent areas of the United States. That’s not all it means to me, it is home – but these factors are constantly there. Many of the best friends I had growing up were of military families, of varying economic status, and many of them moved somewhere new every three years. A life serving your country really means a life serving your country. It is in every aspect of what you do, and it is not ever just an individual commitment – everyone else who loves you and those who love you make that commitment too.
I only had to say one or two sentences for my wonderful cast to understand this. Alexandria Moorman (Emerson College ’12), Jacob Plummer (Emerson College ’14), Natasha Karp (Emerson College ’14) and Zelda Gay (Emerson College ’14), understood these were intrinsic truths in the script. In our reading at Emerson, they treated the script with the care it demanded because it carried them. Our audience (one of the largest I’ve ever seen for a staged reading at Emerson) was similarly reverent, and in turns, amused and moved. This meant something to each of us, and we all identified – whether we were from a military family or not. These women’s different roles, each a fighter in a different way, spoke truth – regardless of proximity to situation. And that was a gift we were all able to share. Coming back home to Virginia for Thanksgiving, I am struck by the idea that Spark doesn’t just come to mind because the US Armed Forces have been a part of my life since my parents and I immigrated to the Washington, D.C. Area. SPARK comes to mind because it is about family, sacrifice, and understanding. And whether we’re from Virginia or Massachusetts, we can all connect to that.

Reflection on SPARK in Baltimore (#2)

Theatre Project and Bump in the Road, Baltimore, MD
November 12, 2012
Directed by Carmela Lanza-Weil
                                              by Elliott Rauh
I attended SPARK by Caridad Svich on November 12th, 2012 at Baltimore's Theatre Project. I was invited by one of the Fletcher McNeill, who is a friend and patron of Single Carrot Theatre, where I am a member of the ensemble. Not only was I intrigued to support a fellow actor but to have an opportunity to hear Caridad's play read aloud. Most of my experience with Caridad's plays are me reading it to myself, so having the opportunity to hear other voices color the world of the play was an opportunity I did not want to miss. It should be noted that Single Carrot Theatre is producing Caridad's The Tropic of X in February 2013 and I wanted to experience more of her work. 
SPARK explores a story that has been told before, a soldier returning from war, but what I appreciate is that SPARK follows the experience of a female solider returning home. While listening to the text I found myself thinking about all the advertisements I've seen about men coming home for war and how that image has been branded in my brain. American Airlines, Folgers Coffee, come to my mind. 
Following the reading we had a lively post show conversation. One audience member at the Baltimore reading was a an active duty member of the army and she had recently returned from her first tour in Afghanistan  She spoke about her personal experience and the similarities between her journey back to Baltimore and the play. It was very powerful to hear about her transition and her conflict between her need to slowing get re-acclimated to American society but also her maternal instinct to go right back to being a mother to her 1 year old child. She also spoke about her child's experience, spending months with grandma and then suddenly being back with mom. For this audience member she spoke about how tough it was that her mother was not computer savvy enough to set up a Skype account so she could watch her child grow, even from a combat zone, as many other soldiers experienced.  
As an ensemble member at Single Carrot Theatre I was thrilled that SPARK was read in Baltimore. I hope that more readings of this nature, scheduled and organized all over the country or world at the same time, will continue. It has been a success for other companies like the Tectonic Theatre Project and their readings of Laramie Project - 10 years later and Standing on Ceremony: The Gay Marriage Plays. 
 "The plays of Caridad Svich are plays of action. They are each, in their own way, a call to stand up, look out and examine the world around us, loudly or quietly, They nestle into the small moments that make up our lives and burrow deep into the crevices of what often tears us apart, but also lead us on the road to healing." - Zac Kline
I believe that there is no other quote that could sum up why Single Carrot Theatre has been so interested in Caridad's writing. "Plays of action" is the type of theatre that Single Carrot sets out to create. Baltimore audiences need to know more about Caridad and her work and we proud to help introduce Caridad to Baltimore and Baltimore to Caridad. 
Brief Bio: Elliott Rauh - managing director and co founding ensemble member of Single Carrot Theatre, Baltimore MD.  BFA Theatre, BA English University of Colorado - Boulder '05. Single Carrot is scheduled to produce the US Premiere & English Language Premiere of THE TROPIC OF X in February 2013 in Baltimore.