La MaMa Blogs: 6 Questions for Romana Soutus

Hyena written and performed by Romana Soutus and directed by Rachel Levens comes to The Club @ La MaMa - March 18 - 27, 2016.  Romana took time out from rehearsals to answer our 6 Questions about the show, the postcard and a lot more!

1. Your solo show HYENA opens at La MaMa on March 18th.  Where did the title come from?

I started conceiving the piece while I was in La MaMa Umbria, and while doing a workshop with Roberto Varea this image of a woman growling at an audience came into my head. That image stuck with me for a couple of days, almost relentlessly. All of a sudden, it just kind of hit me "HYENA", that's the title. It just felt right. 

In no part in the show do I actually talk about hyenas, which is in part why I love the title even more. 

2. What are some specific challenges of doing a solo show?

HYENA is incredibly interactive. The audience is my scene partner. We're constantly in rehearsal going "okay, well, this is the part when we find out how the audience reacts to this!" There are parts of the show that I'll technically will have never done until we open. That being said, I won't have that sensation of ever feeling "ready". And even when I've done the show 3 or 4 times, I still won't feel prepared because each audience is different and I need to respect that. 

That excites me because I know that each experience with an audience is going to be unique and special. 

3. We love your postcard for Hyena - how did it come about?

I met our visual designer Paola Pagano through the La MaMa Junior Committee. We were both chairs of the end-of-year Cartel Dance Party together and after the meeting when we first met, we just decided to go out for a drink together. I had to run to a rehearsal of a workshop of HYENA, so the meeting ran little short. We started talking about the play and she asked me to send it to her. When we next saw each other at the Dance Cartel party, Paola took me aside and said "I'm doing the visual design for your show. I have to". I think she nailed it!

4. What was the last good book you read?

I'm currently reading "The Collected Short Stories of Lydia Davis". It's 733 pages of really beautiful and delicate writing that also seems to be incredibly violent. That juxtaposition totally excites me (clearly). Each short story inspires me. "She shakes hands with a great many people until someone breaks her wrist", who doesn't want to write a whole play based on that one sentence??

5. If you could go on a vacation tomorrow, anywhere in the world - where would you go?

I finished Patti Smith's "M Train" recently, and the way she described Tangier really interested me. I've had this impulse to go to Morocco my whole life, so going to this artist Mecca would be the best vacation for me right now.

6. What does working at La MaMa mean to you?

HYENA is a born and bred La MaMa piece. I was at the La MaMa Umbria Director's Symposium when the first spark of the idea came to me, I started writing it with Catherine Fillioux on the Playwright Retreat, I did the workshops in the Great Jones rehearsal studios and La MaMa staff gave me input and direction, and now, here I am, performing it in the Club! La MaMa is home. I love walking into the office and seeing everybody. I call half the people in that office "mom". 

Working at La MaMa means being part of a family. And my artist family is amazing. 

People You Should Know . . . Rachel Levens

RACHEL LEVENS (Director) is a graduate of Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle, WA where she received her BFA in Theater with an emphasis in Original Works. Rachel is a new play director, divisor, dramaturg, and teaching artist. In New York she directed Madigan and the Magic Box written and performed by Lindsey Leonard (Dixon Place) and served as an assistant director on various premiere productions including Selma ’65 by Catherine Filloux (La MaMa) and16 Words or less by Peggy Stafford (Clubbed Thumb). In Seattle she assistant directed with The Satori Group onreWilding and This Land is Always Known. Rachel served as the dramaturg for the literature performance piecePhiladelphia and Other Stories by writer Paul Rome and composer Roarke Menzies (The Bushwick Starr) and was the assistant dramaturg on the world premiere of Stuck (Washington Ensemble Theater). Currently, Rachel volunteers as a supporting artist at CO/LAB Theater Group.  

When did you know you wanted to be a director?

I knew I wanted to be a director while I was studying for my BFA. I don’t think there was particular moment when I knew, but I do feel gradually it just clicked. Directing allowed me to take all my seemingly disparate interests in dramaturgy, applied theatre, performance art, clown, and interdisciplinary arts into one role. I could apply everything I loved about all those other art forms and apply them to my work as a director.  

I wanted to have agency with the work I was creating. I am interested in developing, directing new plays and devising because I want to create communal and relevant experiences for an audience.

I also I love plays, playwrights, rehearsals, and collaboration. And, as a director you get the unique opportunity to be trusted with a playwright's words and create a concept with other artists in order to bring the characters and world to life. 

Tell me about HYENA.  What was the most challenging part of mounting this production? 

HYENA is an interactive solo performance that follows that trajectory of Hy as she examines her public and private self.

The most challenging part of mounting HYENA is that the play is interactive. In rehearsals you don't have an audience to interact with and that leaves us with a lot of unanswered questions and unknown factors about certain moments in the play. 

But, living in these unknowns is exciting because it means every show and audience member is going to have a different experience.

What do you love most about the play?

I love HYENA because the spoken text and stage directions are poetic. It allows me freedom to interpret the action of the play and create a unique vocabulary around the action of play.

What kind of writing inspires you?

I am inspired by writing that asks me to confront society and myself. When I read something I want my worldview to change be a more empathetic, knowledgeable, and understanding person. 

Who or what has been the biggest influence on your work as a director thus far?

Visual art and going to museums has the biggest influence on my work as a director. I think the two mediums have a lot of similarities because both explore space, time, lines, color, shape and perspective. 

Visual art allows me to ground a production in a metaphorical way. It allows me to have something that tangible that helps me communicate how I see, think, and feel about the play.

What else are you working on right now?

I am a supporting artist at CO/LAB Theater Group. CO/LAB whose mission is to “provide individuals with developmental disabilities theater arts opportunities.” We have our performances at the PIT on June 11 and 12 at 1pm.

I am directing The Expulsion By: Mary Decarlo, which will have its premiere in the Thespis Theatre Festival on July 15-18. 

Posted by Zack Calhoon