LEAVeS is a project by the association La FORTeRESse and the European initiative EU Collective Plays: a polyvocal experience that, in collaboration with La Fura dels Baus and the Épica Foundation, wishes to push scenic language and audience interaction to new limits while working on such current topics as Identity and Refugee’s Voices.
Anna Romano, director of the project, comes to the Épica Foundation to work on this play, which is expected to premiere during the 2018-19 season at the International Festival of dramaturgy Quartieri dell’Arte (Italy). Her objective is to collaborate with the invited artists to refine its production through a collective work: improving incipient ideas, thinking out of the box, finding new dynamics and, in short, breathing life into the project so that it jumps from paper to action thanks to the exchange of concepts and knowledge that will take place.
Samia Yusuf Omar was 17 years old and she hailed from Somalia. Samia was the sprinter number 2895 at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games. She drowned in the Mediterranean after her clandestine boat sank, trying to make landfall on the Italian island of Lampedusa.
LEAVeS is a homage to Samia but not her biography. The authors have been inspired by different events to transcend them with the intention of using first the composition and then the acting to touch what is universally known: our finitude and our weakness in the face of life and History.
Therefore, it is necessary to write why Samia’s race never stops. Making theatre is necessary, for each and every anonymous Samia defying the seas, so that they can continue asking us questions and question the world, our world.
LEAVeS is a polyvocal work resulting from the writing residency on March 2016 at the Théâtre des Doms in Avignon, under the new artistic director Alain Cofino-Gomez.
The English version of LEAVeS will be published in 2018, translated by Maria Adele Palmeri and produced as part of 2018-19 season in collaboration with La Fura dels Baus, directed by Anna Romano. The performance is expected at the International Festival of dramaturgy Quartieri dell’Arte (Italy) and it will be embodied in other festivals organized by additional partnerships of the European project.
La Fura dels Baus’ Épica Foundation is a creative space focused on Performing Arts. Its objective is to find new ways of merging art, science and technology through polyvocal experiences, knowledge exchanges and multidisciplinary works.
In its original design, LEAVeS presents a constant interaction between the text, the actors’ interpretation and the video: these three elements maintain a fundamental dialogue from the dramaturgical perspective, allowing us to work on space-time gaps and to realize poetic parables. The idea is to take this game as far as possible: back projections, loops and other research in the audiovisual field will be indispensable complements for the performance.
Another of Épica’s key contributions to LEAVeS will be Kalliope, a mobile application designed for real-time audience interaction in order to complement the dramaturgy and guide the crowd. This app has been used with great success in past workshops and continues to investigate to find new narrative forms.
The first day of the workshop spent presenting the original text of LEAVeS, introducing the participants (workshop students, members of La FORTeRESse and staff of the Èpica Foundation) and doing team building exercises. This way, all the people who take part in the workshop become familiar with each other and begin to become a team prepared to carry out the intensive work involved in a one-week workshop.
Then the first brainstormings take place. The participants are divided into four groups, one for each main LEAVeS scene, and requested to develop a performance proposition related to their assigned theme:
-Identity. The identity (or loss thereof) of immigrants, a false identity imposed by society based on their appearance or place of origin.
-Journey / Metamorphosis. Physical, psychological and emotional changes that the immigrant will suffer during their trip.
-Dream. Dreamlike scenes, delusions confused with daydreams. In certain circumstances, freedom only exists in dreams.
-Reality. A manipulated reality, the false information that reaches privileged societies about the situation of immigrants and countries in conflict.
Based on the theoretical work, the participants get down to work and begin to prepare their scenes, which will be revised and improved by the whole group as the workshop progresses.
The scenes are presented, it’s time to give them shape. The participants develop their work, always following the ideas and themes proposed in the original text of LEAVeS, through rehearsals and sharing of ideas. They must develop not only the dramaturgy, but all aspects of the performance: lighting, costumes, sets, projections … As always, the narrative will be complemented through Kalliope, Èpica Foundation’s flagship mobile application, which will guide the audience through the show by giving them advice, clues and orders on how to interact with their environment.
Thus the scene about Identity becomes the Plastic Island, a large garbage patch in the middle of the Pacific, the inhabitants of which have had to adapt to a new ecosystem: plastic is revered as the only possibility of survival and rites based on the traditions of the ancient world are held in its honor. The journey will become a real trip for the audience, who will cross minefields and sail in clandestine boats, forced to live the experiences of immigrants very closely. The Dream will culminate in a space journey in which one of the protagonists will feel how she leaves suffering, the Earth and her own body to achieve a freedom that is only possible when she sleeps. As for the Reality, the assistants will be guided through a Spanish lesson: while a voice recites sentences for them to repeat, offering a simple and pleasant reality, the lessons will be exemplified by oppressed characters (a Muslim mother “delicately cleaning” her daughter’s hair becomes an image of control over young girls’ bodies by their own mothers).
The audience is received at Èpica Foundation’s main entrance. After presenting the LEAVeS project and giving them basic instructions on how Kalliope works, they are introduced directly into the first room. There they find three hostesses who check their passports: first class travelers have the right to wear a life jacket, second class must keep the the leftover ones (if that’s the case) and third class will receive bags full of garbage that will accompany them throughout the whole show.
Then they will be guided to the Manipulated Reality room: they will have to repeat the sentences of a Spanish lesson while they spy through holes on the characters that exemplify them. They will see the experiences of two oppressed Muslims: a man on the brink of suicide who has not eaten for weeks and a young woman controlled by her mother and forced to marry. At the end of the lesson, they are asked to remove the plastic that prevented them from seeing the whole scene and they encounter reality: the characters are looking at them face to face.
It will be a brief impact: a hostess appears among the assistants and asks them to follow her to continue their journey. After struggling to get clothes and supplies, they will witness how various immigrants advance with difficulty before them to end up dying one after another, turned into a bunch of corpses the organs of which will be auctioned by the hostesses.
The trip does not end here: their new challenge is to cross a minefield that, although the hostesses assure is deactivated, will explode in their path. After losing some members of the group, they will go up to some boats and cross the Mediterranean, where they will witness the death of an immigrant struggling to cross it by swimming.
The cruise through the Mediterranean will be interrupted again by a bombing. After a few moments of confusion trying to flee from the bombs, they will witness the dreamlike scene of an immigrant who remembers her family, her journey until now, and begins to fade away as her mind moves away from her body. She will end up as an astronaut lost in space, thinking about Earth and everything she leaves behind, until she dies.
The climactic scene takes place on the Plastic Island, a mountain of garbage accumulated by human impact on the environment, where a society that venerates plastic and considers it the only hope for human life resides. When they encounter the immigrant’s corpse, they revive her with a ritual imported from the ancient world: her body is sprinkled with bottled water while they recite a mantra about resurrection. Finally, the immigrant awakens and unleashes a great plastic celebration in which the audience is encouraged to shout and throw garbage to the inhabitants of the island until they are completely covered by a huge plastic sheet.
When it seems the show has ended, attendees witness the final scene, taken directly from the original staging of LEAVeS. They are presented with the actual recording of a call from a clandestine boat to the coast of Malta. While the boat’s spokesman asks for help, insisting that they are starving and the boat is starting to sink, the authorities on the other side of the phone repeat again and again that he has not called the right number and they can’t help him. The call ends, and the audience is left alone with their thoughts and reflections on their experiences.