Special Reports

Artists Converge on La MaMa for Soulographie: Our Genocide

A scene from <i>Shape</i>, a play in Erik Ehn's theatrical event, <i>Soulographie</i>.
A scene from Shape, a play in Erik Ehn’s theatrical event, Soulographie.
C. Stanley Photography

Seventeen works, eighty actors, and sixteen directors, all tackling a single subject—genocide—in just one week of performances at La MaMa. Soulographie: Our Genocides is a convergence of playwright Erik Ehn’s exploration of the effects and global reach that genocide has on everyone ranging from innocent children to business men, executioners to nuns, Vaudevillian fairies to heavy metal fans, and even Cordelia from King Lear.

The seventeen plays were first performed during the 2010-2011 theater season in three countries and eleven cities. Each production was accompanied by a post-show discussion, which promoted Ehn’s mission of “waking people up” to the realities of genocide.

Ehn spent the better part of two and a half years traveling around the world to oversee as many of his seventeen plays as possible. “For some productions…I would be happily surprised by what they came up with,” says Ehn. “In other cases, I did serious rewriting.”

Having all seventeen productions culminate in a one-week epic theater event at La MaMa was always part of the plan. Mia Yoo, La MaMa’s Artistic Director, worked with Ehn previously at La MaMa’s playwriting retreat and was drawn to “the way he uses art as a vehicle for social change or for attaining some kind of spiritual connection to this world…It seemed perfect for La MaMa,” Yoo says.

Yoo also cited Ehn’s work on the project with both national and international companies as part of her desire to bring Soulographie: Our Genocides to her theater. “Having this as part of our Beyond Borders season, we hope it will raise awareness to these issues that affect us all.” The theatrical event would have aligned with La MaMa founder, Ellen Stewart’s vision as well. Says Yoo, “She believed in art being a vehicle for change and bringing humans together.”

The experience has been, according to Yoo, “Crazy, but amazingly beautiful. It’s awe-inspiring and thrilling to see people put this together in such a short period of time.” Being surrounded by all of the productions at once has been surreal for Ehn. “I think our program is 26 pages long,” he says.

Though the La MaMa run is meant to be a culmination of the work, Ehn sees his plays continuing on; moving in different directions, perhaps adding to existing pieces or creating new ones. Yoo also sees something more in the work, “Maybe these pieces won’t be done together in the same way, but they will continue to live and I think new work will be created around art and poetics as acts to social change. At least, that’s what I’m imagining will be the future of Soulographie.”

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