UDHR, ARTICLE 1: FREEDOM AND EQUALITY
Two voices, one theater performance: Austrian playwright Julya Rabinowich and stage director Natalia Gleason share their thoughts on “Surfacing” (Auftauchen). The play tells the story about our invisible people – alive, yet not present in everyday life: a mother seeking asylum, a young man hiding from blood-revenge, and a young woman kidnapped and locked up in a basement. “Surfacing” gives a voice to those millions and millions of people, who are robbed of the most basic human right – enshrined in Article 1 of the UDHR – to be “free and equal in dignity and rights”.
Surfacing is something quite Freudian. Only these things can surface, and emerge from the subconscious, which have been lost or imprisoned deep down there. So, on one hand, surfacing is about reflection of very uncomfortable truth- and understanding of the greatest fears. On the other hand: People who are stripped off their free will, who are hidden away from society, in one way, or another, seek for being found, being seen, being rescued. The room in which the story of Surfacing unfolds can be also seen as a model of our consciousness: the basement- is what Freud called id, the flat in the middle is a logical decision of the ego and the attic is the superego, drilled and fully controlled, without letting any feeling disturbing this grip of control.
But Surfacing is also more than this model of the mind. Surfacing is telling the story of violence in our society, and the attempt to deal with it and it is based on cases, which have happened in Europe- but also could happen anywhere. The monologue is woven of three speeches happening at the same time, forming a chorus, a stream of thoughts, uniting all three victims in one surviving mind.
Having worked with victims of violence as a translator for refugees, I was often astonished by their strength and their will to stay alive, to motivate themselves, to push themselves towards a better living. And also I was astonished by the society ignoring this violence. So, like two of my other stage plays, Surfacing is an attempt to bring this violence and this power to hold on to life back into perception.
Directing theater is the art of mediation between different people: dead and alive, the listeners and the talkers, the morally present yet emotionally absent, imaginary yet real. For all people, a performance such as “Surfacing” at Forum Theatre aspires to create a temporary community that bonds us with our eternal humanity; it is an exercise of compassion and hope.
Julya’s play is fiercely political but in an elevated and universal way. For instance, as the refugee mother re-counts the beads of her necklace, each bead a chapter of her journey, I re-count my privileges and contemplate my life as an immigrant mother in the USA. Julya’s open dramaturgy embraces the audience, as they become a part of her mute chorus of unheard voices. I seem to have committed to these unheard voices as a theater maker: voices from the margins, people with far away experiences, whom I would never meet (perhaps) if it wasn't for playwrights like Julya.
I was at home in Budapest when the first wave of refugees arrived – after I have encountered those people, I no longer dare to complain how hard it was to get my green card or to leave for London in my early 20s because of poverty.
“Surfacing” is my performance offering for those mothers sustaining life – seeking a better life. “Surfacing”, the perfect piece for a festival celebrating female voices – such a meaningful and important occasion. Theater can seem inconsequential when examined from a human rights perspective but theater, I believe, serves as a testament to our humanity; it is a commitment to bear witness, a collective effort to listen which may re-ignite the desire to broaden our consciousness.
Who is to judge the impact of voices heard for the very first time?
Julya Rabinowich is one of Austria’s most exciting female playwrights. Born in the USSR, she was “uprooted and re-potted” in 1977, as she herself describes her move to Vienna.
Natalia Gleason is a Hungarian director living in Washington DC fascinated by the postmodern female muse and all her manifestations in contemporary plays.
“Surfacing” was part of International Women’s Voices Day, sponsored by National New Play Network and the New Play Exchange®, as a part of the 2018 Women’s Voices Theater Festival, and was performed at the Forum Theatre on February 13, 2018.