THE HABITAT BLOG
Goings on of The Habitat Community
By Kelleen Moriarty
Tell us about the project you're working on with The Habitat.
I am working on a play called "Sehnsucht." The title comes from this German word that we don’t have a direct translation for in our language but it means a sense of longing for the past or another place or event or time that you didn’t actually live through yourself. It expresses this yearning for we know not what. It’s taking that definition and using it to look at the current – I don’t want to say political climate—but I’m thinking about “Make America Great Again” and the way that nostalgia can be seductive and sinister. It’s a sort of dystopian resort that’s loosely based on Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s winter White House where all the guests are plagued by nostalgia.
How did this project come to you/you come to this project?
I think I start every project the same way, which is that I figure out what I’m interested in at the moment and I spend a little while reading different things. I was getting into this other project actually that was totally different. It was about Empress- Dowager Cixi who is this 19th century Chinese empress who brought China into their huge moment of global trade, and Georgia O’Keefe. I was looking at the intersection of those women and their lives. It was starting to feel a lot like some of the other stuff I had made in the past and I was like well, what is it that I’m actually interested in? Why do I keep doing this? And I became interested in how I feel comforted by looking at figures from the past. I can sometimes feel closer to the inner lives of women that lived a hundred years ago than even peers and friends. It’s interesting how you can relate to peoples’ psychology from many years ago; it points at something that is essentially human. So I was like “What is that looking back? What is that desire for feeling human and what does it even mean to feel human or more human?” I feels like an absurd concept. So we--myself and my three collaborators, writer Michael Norton, and performer/devisers Brian Bock and Georgia King—we started having discussions about that tendency to look back and those feeling about craving feeling human. And then that swelled into a whole other thing of research.
So what is the structure of the piece?
That’s a great question. We’re still figuring it out. Some of it feels like vignettes of life inside this resort and gaining clues about what the outside world is, relative to the inside world. It’s very absurdist. It’s a very silly place with super wealthy guests who are kind of ridiculous and trying to do good in the world—or think they are but don’t have any context for what that would mean. So they end up making ridiculous choices about how to spend their money. It pretty much ends up with them feeding themselves and making themselves feel better. It’s also about the bumbling staff of people who need to be at the resort because the rest of the world is more destitute. So, it’s vignettes and little scenes that introduce the audience to that world.
Then there’s this big interlude in the middle that’s these cavemen, these nostalgic cavemen, who reminisce about when they were younger and when times were simpler. This is going back to the whole idea of what is essentially human and making fun of that. You know, things like “remember when you could just bash someone’s head in and how good that felt?” And I don’t know what that section is yet, but it feels like a really important part of the piece. We’re going along and we’re going along in these vignettes and then we’re interrupted by this parenthetical.
The biggest thing we’re working on right now is how to have a plot inside of it. I’m working with an idea where the guests start getting sick because of their nostalgia. In 1688, “nostalgia” was first coined as a term for a disease. This Swiss physicist started noticing that displaced soldiers and students were starting to get these symptoms of sickness, ranging from wanting to commit suicide to nausea. The only cure for it was sending them home. Basically, it was homesickness.
What do you see as the future of this piece?
In June, we are doing a reading at the New York Society Library because we got a grant from them. In July, we’re mounting a production of it at Jack in Brooklyn, and then we’re going to Barn Arts in the fall in October to continue developing it. I’d love for it to have a life beyond the showing.
How did you hear about The Habitat and the Directors Playground?
I heard about it through Caroline because she and I went to school together. I’m a big fan of her as a person and I really admire her taste. I heard about it last year and I wasn’t able to do it last year and then this year I was like “Oh I gotta jump on this.”
What have you gained and learned – personally, professionally, artistically – from this process?
I truly do not have enough good things to say about this program. As a director, you apply to things all the time. You put out feelers into the world and expect that maybe one out of a zillion will fall back into your lap. I feel like I didn’t really know what to expect but it’s just been this incredible system of support. The thing that’s amazing about The Directors Playground is that it actually executed all of the things that it said it would. I love the ability to like come in with work and have other people who are smart have smart and helpful things to say about your work.
Also, we had a couple workshops that were helpful reminders of tools to use. When you’re in school, you think about these things all the time. But then when you leave, sometimes you just need a refresher to be like “oh yeah!” It’s not like I don’t know it, it’s just that I haven’t been using it.
And then also just the community. I think Caroline and Katie picked so well. I love everybody in the group and it’s felt awesome to be like “Fuck, how do you fundraise?” or “Fuck, what do you do when you’re negotiating this contract between assistant and associate?” Just the technical things like that where it was amazing to be able to speak openly with other people in a non- competitive way, just with generosity, support and interesting, interested people.
I would say the biggest thing was just feeling like you have something that is acting as a through line for you throughout the year. That is something that I’m amazed at how much I felt that the whole time. When you work freelance, it’s so easy to feel like you don’t have your feet on the ground, that you’re sort of aimless. This really did provide this structure to my year. I was like “Well no I’m always working on this, I always have the Habitat.” It provided consistency. And the fucking rehearsal space. Oh my god. I’m sitting here being like “holy shit what am I gonna do next year? I have to pay for rehearsal space.” Like what a dream that is.