Meet the Residents
95 Empire chats with Ari Rodriguez, the director of New Weird America to help explain the intricacies of working on a “devised theater piece” and to help explain what that means to them.
95 Empire: So, this is your first collective performance under the name “Folk Mantra”? How is it going?
Ari Rodriguez: New Weird America has been a wonderfully informative experience for Folk Mantra. This group has only been working together for a month and I feel we already have a signature style. We are founded on exploring a mantra-like way of performing and view all theatrical action through the lens of explicit choreography. We believe that memorization is mesmerizing. This play was in every way an experiment and there have been exciting and unexpected results over the month, specifically in how to integrate music and translation into new theatrical work of this sort.
95 Empire: Correct me if I’m wrong, but as I understand it, the focus of New Weird America is just that: The slightly muddled, “weird” interpretation of life, lust and interaction in America. What was your inspiration for your weird storyline?
AR: Our “weird” storyline is inspired by the increasing number of “weird” cultural histories on the Greater American Continent. Complexity of cultural heritage is a Pan-American problematic. Our piece celebrates heterogeneity of cultural perspectives by rejecting to divide America on the traditional lines of language practice, global hemispheres, pre and post-colonialist eras. In this piece we focused on an American folk tradition of music and dance called the Cueca (specific to Chile) – we tried to take seriously our joint ownership of this tradition, the ways that this dance was already ours, and the ways that we were citing, appropriating, and evolving it. By trying to mimic one set of rituals, we end up with our own set of “new, weird” rituals that are still distinctly American. We hope to expand the horizons of this rich tradition to a new Providence audience , knowing that we are also evolving this tradition as we try to spread it because the forms of folk traditions are not impervious to the folks who practice them.
95 Empire: There is no English spoken in the piece, is that right? Have there been any challenges in getting the message of the play across?
AR: There is very little English spoken in the piece. The challenges in getting messages across was exactly what our piece was looking to jump into and complicate. We are hoping that this piece is entertaining and readable whether one speaks solely English, solely Spanish, or solely Portuguese. The piece sends messages out in multiple directions and resists a singular interpretation, while hopefully having things to offer to everyone. We made a piece predominantly in Spanish without one native or fluent Spanish speaker on the creative team. This makes for a radically different way of working with and developing a textual theater event, one that foregrounds choreography, translation, and the impossibility of “pure” or “complete” understanding.
95 Empire: What’s next for Folk Mantra? Any hint of consensus after your first performance as a unit?
AR: Folk Mantra is a loose company name for a group whose boundaries are relatively unknown; but, I believe that many of us will continue to make choreographic work of all sorts together. We’ll see what happens next, and keep you posted!
New Weird America Runs
Friday and Saturday, Feb. 22 & 23 @ 8pm
Sunday, Feb. 24 @ 3pm and 8pm
Wednesday and Thursday, Feb. 27 &28 @ 8pm
Friday and Saturday, March 1 &2 @ 8pm
Sunday, March 3 @ 3pm