THE HABITAT BLOG
Goings on of The Habitat Community
By Kelleen Moriarty
What is the project you’re working on with The Habitat?
The title of the piece is El Poeta y El Rey, or The Poet and the King. We’re in the process of finding a better title, but that seemed to be a very straightforward title about what the thing is so we’re working with it. We are adapting a series of short stories and poems by Ruben Dario, who was a very important figure in Latin America between the 1880s and the 1910s. He was from Nicaragua but he lived mostly in South America. He mostly lived and wrote in Chile, Argentina, and I think Uruguay, and he also lived and worked a lot in Spain and France. He was tri-lingual. He spoke English, French, and Spanish. He’s very famous in Latin America and very not famous here. A lot of his short stories are read in high school –he’s a classic of Spanish literature. People like Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Isabel Allende, all of these more famous authors from South America in the US, were actually inspired by him. A lot of people consider him the father of magic realism, which is such a strong Latin American icon of style and genre. My collaborator, who’s a composer, is also from Argentina, and two years ago she released a conceptual album around one of his short stories. Her music is a fusion between South American folkloric style and very contemporary Latin-jazz. So, she released this album and then she was like I want to release more music based on his literature. I said we should do it in a theatre context. So it’s less of a conceptual album and more of a narrative album.
How do you know your collaborator?
We’ve been working together for three years. She started as a guitarist in another musical in which I directed her as a performer. We became friends. We worked together on a Chuck Mee play called Café LeMonde, and she did some music for that. We’ve been working together since.
What do you see as the future of this piece?
It’s very ambitious piece, and I understand that it’s a very long-term project because we’re hoping for it to be a full-length musical. The process of writing music is very slow. Working with a composer, especially someone who’s not a musical theatre composer and is an actually mainly a jazz and a Latin-fusion composer, their process is very slow. Duration wise, it feels like its gonna take a million years to do it. But the future that I see for it is for it to be a full-length musical, for it to be in a big space, and hopefully for it to be able to coexist as a piece that is 100% in Spanish and an alternative production where the book is in English and the lyrics are in Spanish. I imagine a kind of a bi-lingual production where you can get the gist of the story. All the actors we work with are bi-lingual so that could work. I’m always very interested in doing work outside New York –in places with a large Hispanic population, like Miami. So, getting it to Miami or getting it to LA or getting it to other places that have Spanish speaking populations would be exciting. And NY, obviously.
What has been your experience working on this piece in the Directors Playground?
It’s challenging because you’re trying to get feedback and other people are trying to give you feedback about something that they don’t access through language. But at the same time, it’s an opportunity. Everyone who works on the show speaks Spanish so I get a lot of feedback from people who do speak Spanish. Because most of the people at the Habitat don’t speak Spanish, they don’t have another option other than seeing it from an outside perspective. That is a factor that I’m taking into account. I’m not making this show to take it to a theatre festival in South America-- although that would be super cool. I actually do want it to happen here in New York City, so I think having people see it and have to pick up clues that are not verbal language is very useful. Early on, especially because it’s in its very infant phase, some of the conversations we had can feel premature. I thought, “oh well we can deal with translation later.” But actually if it’s dealt with in the very beginning, its cooked into the early DNA of the piece. If you as a director know this is gonna have to live in a place where some people speak Spanish fully, others kinda, others none, it’s a privilege to be able to think about that this early on in the process. Hopefully over time we’ll come up with a good way of allowing different audiences into the piece.
So how did you decide to participate in the Directors Playground?
Having a conversation with a group of theater artists is very similar to what I did in grad school. Once I was out of grad school, I felt like it was a good idea to jump into a new group that I could continue having these conversations with. Some people leave grad school and they're just like “I don’t want to talk to anyone, I just want to do my thing.” I actually really like it. I feel like this is something we say all the time which is, “directors are usually in rooms with everyone except directors,” right? Being able to speak with other directors on a regular basis—not just one-offs but something that is ongoing—is very valuable. It also helps you put your own obstacles in the rehearsal room or career wise in context. So you're like “oh okay this is where I am and what I’m dealing with” and then there are these other eight people who are very different but in similar circumstances and I feel like that can help them. It’s kind of anxiety revealing - like there are other people who are trying this as well I can learn from them, they can learn from me. In college, I feel like it was different for me because I feel like identity is very different. When you’re in New York, it’s very rare to hang out with directors unless they're your personal friends so I was interested in that.
What have you gained/learned through the Directors Playground?
I am loving getting to know everyone who is in the Playground. Being able to see them work through their process, see where their focus is and what they’re really interested in. Several of us—well I guess in a way all of us—are also writers to some extent. Not me in particular, my process relies heavily on other people writing. To see that a few of the women in the group are writing texts for actors, others are writing and co-writing—that is very rare in New York. Or maybe everywhere in the US. Because there’s a thing of like “Oh well you’re a director and you’re gonna direct this play. We are suspicious if you write a play, like we don’t really know what that is. And how are you gonna direct it as well?” So, I feel like what I’ve really taken from this, even though I’m not a playwright and I’m not very interested in being one, is seeing that every person in the group has been able to create work the way that they want to. It’s a more flexible point of view. So, I really liked that. I think there’s an advantage in the group being all women—and not because we’re all women. We spend so much time talking about “oh if you want to be a woman director” or “a woman in the theater,” that we have all the obstacles that bring us together. It is true, there are systemic problems. But being in a group with a bunch of female directors, you also realize how different we all are—even though we’re all directing, or directing and writing, and even though we’re all in New York. The perspectives are incredibly different. Being reminded that just because you’re a woman and you’re directing, to not let people impose things on you. Because I feel like you can put two of us side to side and be like “these are two different directors.” Which is lame that we have to realize that, you know, because you would never put ten male directors and assume that because they’re male, they’re similar. It's a lame thing for us to have to deal with, but