Tales of emigration, existentialism and blind ambition share the stage for UCLA’s theatrical event “Project III.”
Four plays by graduate students of UCLA’s School of Theater, Film and Television comprise “Project III,” a production project for their theater directing course.
The four pieces – “The Emigrants,” “I Am The Wind,” “The Chairs” and “Venus” – are running Feb. 23 through March 8 at UCLA’s Macgowan Hall. Ying Yan, director of “The Chairs” by Eugène Ionesco, did not respond to interview requests.
The students plan to work specifically on theatrical elements or themes they want to tackle as directors, and express their personal artistic visions through their pieces.
Evelina Stampa said it was only a coincidence that her production of “The Emigrants” premiered in the aftermath of President Donald Trump’s recent travel ban.
The entirety of the play, performed from Feb. 23-25, takes place in an unnamed country where two nameless characters are trapped in a basement on New Year’s Eve. The audience learns the uncomfortable living circumstances of XX, an economic emigrant, and AA, a political refugee, as they bond over their common struggle of having migrated.
People often have idealistic views about life after emigration, Stampa said, but are unaware of the reality that in their new country, emigrants might face the same challenges they faced at home, such as financial troubles and the absence of a platform to express ideas.
The universality and timelessness of “The Emigrants” caught Stampa’s attention, she said, because the play can fit into any era, country or context.
“That’s why I think (“The Emigrants”) is a masterpiece that will keep living on,” Stampa said. “The questions that we ask in the play are questions that we constantly ask ourselves.”
Stampa always felt the need for more awareness, zooming in to view immigration on the human and individual level.
“With “The Emigrants,” my wish is to strip all the layers that are on top of something and to really just go back to the bare human feelings and needs that every one of us can relate to,” Stampa said.
I Am The Wind
A grim existential crisis in the middle of the ocean will unfold onstage when Shichang Jin presents his upcoming piece, “I Am The Wind,” by Norwegian writer Jon Fosse.
Jin hopes to use his staging of the European play to connect with modern audiences in America about how to fight fears in their daily lives, he said.
“I Am The Wind” will run Thursday through Saturday. The audience is presented with the information that two characters – The One and The Other – are on a boat. Mid-voyage, The One commits suicide at sea, leaving The Other disillusioned with no faith in life.
When Jin first read the play, he said he did not understand the storyline because of its abstract nature. It was only after reading the script 15 to 20 times that he started making sense of Fosse’s work.
“I would say the story and the topics and the themes I wanted to talk about all came together during the working process,” Jin said. “It’s not like I just read the play and (understood the essence of it).”
Jin’s adaptation of “I Am The Wind” features female protagonists. Most productions in the play’s history have cast The One and The Other as males, Jin said. But during auditions for his piece, he decided he wanted to break away from this trend because it further reiterates his theme of getting over fear by going against the norm.
The director also believes his “I Am The Wind” will have appeal in modern America because of the uncertainty caused by recent immigration laws, he said. Though his play does not directly address politics, it addresses the fear certain people in the U.S. might suffer from.
Between the two characters, one wants to die but is afraid of death, and the other wants to live but is afraid of life. The kind of fear one faces is irrelevant, Jin said. Courage matters to overcome obstacles.
“You have to overcome fear, whether it is fear of life or fear of death,” Jin said.
The concepts of ambition, racism, exploitation, female empowerment and beauty fuse together in Jayongela Wilder’s staging of “Venus” by Suzan-Lori Parks.
The play will run from March 16-18 and is based on the life of historical figure Saartjie Baartman, an African woman who traveled to Europe seeking the fame and fortune she was promised. Baartman was sold off as a freak-show act because of her physicality, which was different from European standards.
Wilder’s rendition of the original play specifically highlights Baartman’s character traits, like the greed for power that led to her eventual demise as she was sold to and seduced by a doctor who treats her as his subject and uses her body parts for research once she dies.
“What I’m looking to show is not the story of a woman who is objectified,” Wilder said. “We get that in the historical aspect. I want to show how she has power and is, in a sense, complicit in her objectification.”
Wilder consciously avoids presenting stories of the suffering of black women, she said. Instead of focusing on Baartman’s exploitation, Wilder said she wishes to portray her as a powerful woman with the tragic flaw of blind ambition. The representation is much like that of Macbeth, who has been considered a powerful male character over centuries, Wilder said.
“My goal, always, as a director is to bring power to women,” Wilder said.
In addition to elevating women, Wilder also wishes to create a larger focus upon black history. African-American culture should not be lost in time, she said.
“As a director, I feel like it’s not just my responsibility to put up a play because it’s my (project) and it’s something that I need to graduate,” Wilder said. “As a director, I have much more of a responsibility to bring the community together, to talk about things in the world and to bring attention to a part of history.”