by Rory Winston
In a vain attempt to keep up with emerging poets, playwrights and new productions, I – like many theater professionals and enthusiasts out there – supplement my monthly subscriptions by scouring online sources and skimming through additional information alluded to by friends and friends of friends on Facebook.
Admittedly, despite my best efforts, many of the most interesting premises (especially those qualified with the words ‘in development’) remain perpetually under the radar, forever eluding the necessary attention. The surfeit of information – compounded by the fact that’s its far more interesting to read articles celebrating Chorus of Disapproval-like challenges than overlooked masterpieces – makes it virtually impossible to know what’s flying or, even worse, that which is in desperate need of taking off.
Still, there was something about Adam Szymkowicz’s interview with Bianca Bagatourian that stayed with me even three years after I first read the piece from my smart phone while riding the subway downtown. Was it the quality of the interview? As a devoted fan of Adam’s works, I can honestly say that the particular piece paled in comparison to some of his other more in depth interviews. Was it because the subject of Bagatourian’s play, The Time of Our Lies, was Howard Zinn – the civil rights activist who had penned a historical classic now considered a paradigm shift in American Social theory? Although I was Zinn advocate, I knew well enough that the reason I liked the Mountaintop was Katori Hall rather than Martin Luther King Jr., just as Galileo owed more to Brecht than to the father of modern astronomy. And although I was doing a tri-weekly radio show at the time when Szymkowicsz’s piece appeared, I somehow suspect it wasn’t Bagatourian mentioning that her Mise-en-scène was a radio station that kept me thinking about her play.
As Zinn mentioned on numerous occasions, ‘You can’t make a proper choice unless you know the history.’ And the history of my own interest in this play was the playwright’s unique approach to the project. Firstly, Bagatourian knew her subject intimately – having interviewed and studied under Zinn – while nevertheless, opting for a ‘battle of concepts and words’ rather than a staged hagiography. Secondly, as those who were familiar with Bagatourian’s idiosyncratic style, the work promised to be a comprehensive deconstruction of the very words used to build the content. Like Hélène Cixous, Bagatourian understood that language used to describe an event was simultaneously in the process of creating its very own separate event. By juxtaposing narrative with Butoh Dance and multi-media, Bagatorian’s interdisciplinary adventure promised us a view of Zinn that – rather than dramatize his biography or merely give voice to his ideas – would be a mimesis of his creative process portrayed within the context of our unyielding social constructs. Rather than representing Zinn’s diurnal travails, the attempt would be made to draw a picture of the visionary by embodying his very vision as it lay besieged by the realities attempting to quash it. To borrow legal terminology, I would say this is ‘Due process’ as accorded by a serious playwright investigating a man who had devoted a great deal of his life to justice.
When I recently heard that The Time of Our Lies was slated for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival’s prestigious Gilded Balloon I was not surprised; when I later heard that they were still trying to raise money with crowd funding, I was. The truth behind our lies was this: no matter how much we admired new works and passed along the ‘give, give, give, contribute to a worthy cause’ message, more often than not publicity alone wouldn’t cut it. Facebook approvals and likes were simply not enough to help prop up works that needed to be seen. Though I’m not sure if more in the way of media attention can bolster support, I thought as Bianca did when quoting Howard Zinn, ‘knowing the history is of utmost importance.’ So for those who don’t know the history of this project, the link below is essential reading – one which may offer insight in fashioning a more promising future: