A Conversation with “Archipelago” Playwright Caridad Svich
Caridad Svich, recipient of a 2012 OBIE Award for Lifetime Achievement, has been a favorite of ours since Son of Semele Ensemble presented her Iphigenia Crash Land Falls on the Neon Shell That Was Once Her Heart (a rave fable) more than a decade ago. Our U.S. premiere of her play Archipelago opened May 27, 2017. We were delighted to have the chance to chat with her beforehand about the origins of the play, which follows a pair of lovers from differing cultures across time and continents, through chance encounters and missed connections.
CARIDAD SVICH: I wanted to write a love story. I hadn’t written one in a while and I like writing them. I was thinking about globalization and conflict, and how people can transcend cultural boundaries — both real and imagined — and the complications around commitment and sustaining a relationship over time. I’m interested in this notion that it’s always a fight — a fight in a good way, I think — to not settle for something, but to actually be in a relationship where you can honor the fact that there are differences and there is trouble that may always be there. How do you stay in that rather than running away? [I was] thinking about that as a larger metaphor for “how do we resolve conflict with each other as human beings on this planet?” Sometimes it’s quite easy to run away, or just throw our anger at someone, rather than move through a process where we can forgive and we can acknowledge and we can coexist peacefully.
Svich, who started working on Archipelago in 2013, says it represented an important refocusing in her writing after several years working on commissioned literary adaptations.
CS: I have all these little parallel tracks in my career, which is very nice, but sometimes also a little bit maddening. I translate and I also adapt work, and I did three projects that were adaptations of novels, the first being The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende, then In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez and Love in the Time of Cholera by [Gabriel Garcia] Marquez. Those came literally back-to-back, one after the other. So I suddenly was in this other headspace as a writer. Even though I’m very proud of those plays, and they are very much my voice responding to those other texts… they’re still sort of me responding to other texts. [Writing Archipelago] was like getting back to myself. I just wanted to respond to “What am I thinking?”
Svich reports that she’s had several ‘reset’ moments in her career, and that she uses them to push herself to experiment with new elements in her work. (The freewheeling Iphigenia came at another such point.) The script for Archipelago includes a scene that offers a series of images/moments to be conveyed, but no dialogue.
CS: I’ve always been interested in movement theatre, and that’s something I haven’t quite expressed very much to collaborators before. I’m starting to think differently about how text can work. In most of my plays [in development] right now, I’m having that moment about choreographic possibilities. I make plays to collaborate; I’m excited to see what imaginative people are going to come up with. I’m fascinated by throwing challenges down on the page that may seem impossible, or are evocative and a way to start dreaming a different way.
Svich believes that kind of openness to collaboration and interpretation by new artists is essential to the vitality of the theatre.
CS: It gets out you of that thing which sometimes happens in the U.S. theatre landscape in which you see one production of something and you know that play is going to be done pretty much the same way moving forward. I find that deadly boring. I think it should always be new; “How do these people in this circumstance deal with the material now?”
Archipelago runs May 27 – June 18, 2017 at the Son of Semele Theater.
Archipelago originally premiered at the Lighthouse, Poole’s Centre for the Arts, in Dorset, England under the direction of Stephen Wrentmore, as a Lighthouse production.
It was developed at the Ilkhom Theater of Mark Weil in Uzbekistan as part of the New Plays from America Festival and at Arizona Theatre Company’s Café Bohemia reading series.