Guest Blogs

GUEST BLOG: Wallis Caldoza, Dramaturgy Intern

Wallis Caldoza, a current student at Queen’s University approached Cahoots about spending some time with our style of play-creation and development. She is Cahoots’ dramaturgy intern for 2016 – 2017.  Here, she writes about Cahoots’ production of THE ENCHANTED LOOM by Suvendrini Lena in fall of 2016 in association with Factory Theatre. 

How weaving prose, projections, and pivoting allowed Image of a Tamil family circling their father who lies in pain on the floor. for an understanding of manmade trauma in The Enchanted Loom by Suvendrini Lena, and directed by Marjorie Chan

The importance of The Enchanted Loom appears to be most evident in its director’s ability to convey the hereditary nature of manmade trauma using contemporary theatrical conventions and aesthetics, whilst maintaining the culturally imbued tonality of the
script itself. This piece puts forth the notion that trauma, namely trauma inflicted uponhumans during wartime crises – in this instance the Sri Lankan Civil War – has a sort of ripple effect, whereby future generations feel its negative impact.

In May 2009, the Gardiner Expressway was obstructed by protesters begging the Canadian
government to assist in the ending of the Sri Lankan civil war. Many of these protesters were
of Tamil descent. The Enchanted Loom’s plot follows a Tamil family who escaped Sri Lanka
in the wake of this crisis. Thangan, the father of the family, suffers from seizures of
unknown causes but purportedly triggered and caused by the torture he endured at the hands
of the Sri Lankan army. His wife, Sevi, is the breadwinner of the family working as a cleaner
and Thangan’s main form of support. They have two living children, Kanan and Kavitha, the
former being a medical student who advocates for surgery for his father, the latter being
much younger and constantly being told of her heritage and its importance. The greatest
suffering this family seems to have faced is the loss of their son, Kavalan, who had
apparently died in the civil war, but who we find out later is actually still living. There are
two additional characters within the pieces who are both doctors, who also come from
countries of political unrest and violence. From this paltry description alone, it is clear to see
the importance of the title of the piece: there are complex, weaving narratives that all deserve
to be heard and told; however, in order to achieve this in practical terms and not on paper is
another matter entirely.

A staged image of chaos as a group of people are caught in a protest. The events within this piece are told in chronological order for the most part, with changes in location, and oftentimes a fluidity of time in conjunction with this. This method of storytelling is supported by Lena’s use of poetic prose. Her use of rhythm and imagery
within her writing allows for a specific contrast with the tangible set pieces that are used. The stage itself, oriented as an alley, is white, clean, and simultaneously both malleable and
untouchably pristine. The words of the script itself seem to bounce invisibly off the white surfaces and the glass structures lining either side of the stage like bookshelves. The objects within the bookshelves – medical books, newspapers, a money box (the mother’s savings that will be used later to help Kanan find his lost brother), and the dancing anklets that will also
aid in the weaving of this narrative – all seem to absorb her words slightly, allowing them a sort of divinity. The audience is truly unable to escape the weight of the language, the images conjured up, as the actors pivot round the stage.

A man in a hospital gown resting his head on a pile of books.  Behind him, a surgeon wearing hospital scrubs and a mask is miming a brain operation. The imagery is deceptively beautiful. Sevi describe selling her body to men through her description of her dancing for survival. We hear Kavitha describe hearing the anklets calling to her, the cheeky way in which she practices speaking Tamil with her father echoing the
unspoken curiosity of the audience – how can we connect to this other world within our own? Like children, perhaps. When Kavalan is finally miraculously found via a dream sequence with his father who he is undergoing surgery, in a forest no less, he describes the honour of
being a Tamil Tiger in visceral language. Lena carefully allows the characters to wound and heal one another through language, but also allows for a sort of passing down of history with the passing of words to-and-from each character. In moments when medical terminology is
used, Lena has utilized the cadence of the words to her advantage. There is no need to understand the exactitudes of they describe. The rhythm of the language with the movement onstage is as steady as a heartbeat and so human that one cannot help but hold onto all thestrings of the narrative being thrust towards oneself, and be tugged along.

This production also utilizes projections, created by Cameron Davis, to their advantage. The
images are far more literal. They are utilized to allow for a sort of tethering point for the
audience. The speed of the performance is steadied by the images of the father’s brain
undergoing its seizure-ridden activity, the jungle that Kavalan is choked in, and various
images of rhythmic movement that evoke a sense of disparity and loss. The latter of the
aforementioned images are used in conjunction with the dance-like motions and blocking
employed by Chan in her direction for the actors. The seemingly flat projections are forced
to become three dimensional as the actors push through them, distorting the images and
forcing the audience to adapt to having a similar sensory experience to not only Thangan
within his brain, but within the – presumably – emotional bodies of the characters. The clear
images allowed the audience to gain clarity and recognize that the connection to the play was
not to be found within the literal world before them.

Photo of a woman's bare feet wearing traditional Traditional silangai anklets. She rests her hands on her shins. Her black shoes are on the floor beside her feet. The utilization of poetry, projections, and the pivoting onstage allowed audience an offer to acknowledge a culture that has not been portrayed onstage often. There is an appreciation for its intricacies; it feels as though there is a sort of conscious effort made by both the
playwright and director to say “It is so much more than simply this, but accept this as a doorway in”. This is rather clever in terms of carving out space for the audience to be able to feel less alienated; it is perfectly adequate for any person to walk in, with any amount of
knowledge that they possess, so long as they are able to also tote in a sense of empathy, sympathy, and willingness to let these theatrical conventions and aesthetics complete their
purpose: weaving.

~ All production photos of THE ENCHANTED LOOM by Suvendrini Lena by Dahlia Katz Photography ~ 

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Guest Blog: Suvendrini Lena

Cahoots2015brochure-6593We asked Playwright-in-Residence Suvendrini Lena to reflect on her process.

Playwrights are people who hear voices. I’m always having conversations in my head with friends, frenemys, enemys, my child, my lover, and total strangers. So I imagined this interview with myself:

Why do you go to the theatre?

I go to the theatre to connect and feel in a way that is often difficult for me in the real world. Under the cover of darkness its safer (most times) to open up my heart and swim in the sea of emotion and experience that really joins us all together. I like to spend a lot of time on my own. I like to go to the theatre on my own because when the lights go out one is alone and immersed. When theatre is truly brilliant  I am tempted to dive so deep that I risk being carried out to sea. I take the risk.

Why do you write for the theatre?

 Because I am haunted by voices, not one but many, of people who have become entwined with me. To write them is to set them free. To set me free. And theatre, at  least on the surface, and perhaps in its essence, does not need, as poetry or prose or a painting might – a frame of reference, a perspective – characters, worlds, ideas can battle, undress and deflower one another.  The frame moves, is adjusted or broken.

What gives you the right to write about other people?

You mean people who are different from me, in particular more marginalized than me? How can I write the voice of a man who has been tortured, or a working class Tamil woman or an immortal Palestininan poet?

Is it emancipatory or oppressive to write the voice of another? Is there a difference if the sub-altern writes the voice of the colonizer, or the colonizer writes the subaltern’s voice. The black the white or the white the black?

Of course there is a difference.

I think the challenge is to work really hard to see and feel my own constructs and history and how it informs any voice I hear or write. But to step into another’s experience and write it –we can never actually do that – we always write what is within. We have to admit that writing a character will always be constructing an ‘other’. There is always a potential for violence and silencing in this. Seen from a different perspective, creating an ‘other’ is a radical attempt to understand, to exercise empathy, without which we cannot support diversity within community.

Wouldn’t it just be better to stick to what you really know. Yourself for example?

I’d have to write about myself alone right now. Memory is notoriously mutable. The past, the future – its all improvisation. And writing about family isn’t any better. I have caused the greatest pain through acts of misunderstanding those closest to me, whom I ‘know’ the best and with whom I share the most ‘experience’ – my mother for example.

The test is: Do the characters we make open us to the voices of others. Or,  when all is said and done or, have we just made ourselves more comfortable with the music we already like to hear, or the stories we already know. I think ultrasound reveals this struggle rather well.

Will theatre ever change the world?

Yes. The theatre of the oppressed for example, is rooted in the notion that the theatre, and the rehearsal space where we interrogate and re-envision the larger political theatre we all inhabit. Depending on what we rehearse, what we imagine, how we stretch and exercises our voices, and the voices present in the room, we change the world of the play and the world in which we play for better or worse.

Suvendrini Lena is a playwright and neurologist. Her first play, THE ENCHANTED LOOM will be produced by Cahoots Theatre in our 30th anniversary season, Fall 2016 in the Factory Studio Theatre. Her position is supported by the Ontario Arts Council.