School is almost out, and the year is ending with a production of Sun and Shadows produced by Christianne Myers for the kick off of the 100th Anniversary of the School of Theatre and Drama. The projected show was a re-telling of a Guatemalan story about the Sun and the Moon. Directing the shadows – 4 to 8 foot translucent puppets – was a unique experience that helped me to reconsider how stories shape lives and politics.
Technically it was a fascinating opportunity to work on a large scale outdoor production. The sounds for the event was a pre-recorded voiceover whose cast included Department Chair Priscilla Lindsay (what an amazing speaking voice) and selected BFA students. We worked in the audio studio with sound designer Isaac Levine to record songs and sound effects that could evoke the work of the play. The Puppeteers worked hard to animate the translucent figures.
Aesthetically,the production team thought about what it means to deconstruct the human body and connect it to universal forces. If the central character of the story is a giant woman, and her lover is a short boy who is also a hummingbird, what does this say about transformation and it’s possibilities? In our story the woman is destroyed by lightning, but the short-boy-who-is-also-a-hummingbird has the power to restore her if he patiently meditates and prays. He is the ocean and she is the daughter of the mountains. When she is restored they bring the world back to life.
Early in the day there was a panel about Guatemalan language recovery programs with a professor from the Rafael Landivar University. In Guatemala, the right-wing government works to squash indigenous sovereignty. Recovering the very language that can provide a context for the story is a political act. Contemporary Maya are taught to believe that their language and culture is not valuable. They are encouraged to forget and assimilate. This much stop. Indigenous people, in the Americas and elsewhere carry knowledge that can enlighten all of our western studies if we prioritize those understandings.
Perhaps the best part of the Sun and Shadows experience was watching the audience come with picnic blankets and lawn chairs to see the show. Watching the audience is always my favorite part; seeing children and elders, students and artists all gathering, looking up at the facade of a glass building to see what magic will unfold. And the magic of the shadow play rekindles magic of a time-long-gone magic now present in the windows of our memories and imaginations.