by Jeremy J. Kamps (Playwright)
I couldn’t focus while trying to write one afternoon in a café in Cartagena, Colombia. The people on the couch across from me were too loud and right up in my personal space. So, I decided to harness the universe rather than resist it and began to shamelessly eavesdrop. What I heard became the premise for What It Means To Disappear Here.
The impossibility of how and when our lives meet up is always a kind of miracle to me. I once heard it said that the “Other” exists so that we can meet and become “Each Other.” My stories explore both what makes this possible, and what forces work against it. In What It Means To Disappear Here I was most interested in how the characters “Yulieth” and “Mitch” arrived at this moment in the café and where it would direct them.
When I set out to understand who Yulieth is, I did so with the awareness that we live in a world steeped in the dichotomy of subjugator-victim. Yulieth had to be someone who revealed how facile and dehumanizing it is to see the world cast in such a light. Yulieth’s life had to be shown as one for whom mere existence and struggle to survive is not the sum total of her identity. She is someone who, though victimized, is not a victim. Who, though forced into marriage, knows what love is. Who, though pursued, also pursues. Who, though she goes into hiding, also seeks. Who, though displaced, is here.
There is an African Proverb that says, “When elephants fight, it’s the grass that suffers.” I wanted to show the story of the “grass” and how continuing to grow in spite of the elephants is the hope and heroism of our time.
There are 3.5 million displaced people in Colombia, but what does “displaced” mean to the popular consciousness of Americans? What does Plan Colombia mean? What does the Drug Trade mean to the lives that lie between the South American coca crops and the North American nostrils? Whether we know it or not, and whether we accept it or not, our 7 billion lives are inextricably linked.
The medium of theatre makes 7 billion become one, and one become 7 billion. Though most Americans cannot go to Colombia or other parts of the world in which our tax dollars, corporate entities and political decisions have significant impact, we can see a story on the stage; and perhaps through the story of “one of us,” the story of “all of us” can be illuminated.
BRINGING WHAT IT MEANS TO DISAPPEAR HERE TO LIFE
By Danny Sharron (Director)
When I set out to bring Jeremy’s play to life, I kept going back to the story of Jeremy writing in that café in Cartagena. I was not only drawn to the play itself, but also fascinated by what this experience must have been like for him. As New Yorkers, we are constantly surrounded by people – on the subway, walking down the street, in parks, restaurants, cafés – but how often do we think about these other people’s stories? I know that I, for one, go to coffee shops to get work done. I sit down at my table, plug in my laptop, and get completely sucked into my email. I don’t pay much attention to the people around me.
And so I thought: what if we made the audience feel the way Jeremy felt sitting in that café in Cartagena? What if we sat everyone at café tables and had the scenes take place amidst the audience? Thus was born the idea of making this an environmental production, and after two months of searching for the right space we stumbled upon Port Royal – an underground bar below Park Slope’s Tea Lounge that has been largely out of public use for the past two decades. The owner of the space had been looking to reopen Port Royal to the public, and the stars aligned when we came knocking on his door. The space could not be more ideal. Not only does it allow for us to really throw the audience into the action, but as you walk down the stairs from street level to the bar, you feel transported. You could be anywhere. And for us, for this play, you will be transported to that café in Cartagena.
At the heart of UglyRhino is the idea that theater should be social – it should include food, drinks, live music, dance parties. It should be something you want to do with your friends on a Friday night. Everything we produce somehow fits into this description, andWhat It Means… is no exception. Not only does presenting the play in a bar make the audience a part of the action, but it also allows us to make it a true UglyRhino experience: food, drinks, live music, even a functioning pool table!
So please join us for a peek into a few of the seven billion lives.
Now through May 17th at
Tea Lounge (837 Union Street, Brooklyn)