“For me, as the world has changed, the mission of the festival has changed,” Tricklock Company Artistic Director Juli Hendren said of the company's 18th annual Revolutions International Theatre Festival, a weeks-long event featuring theater from all over the globe brought right here to Albuquerque. “It has always been about cultural exchange,” she continued, “but now it is truly a mission of empathy, compassion, understanding and connection. You cannot treat someone like they are subhuman after you share space and story with them.”
This year, Revolutions is bringing troupes from Chile, France, the UK, India, Poland and more. While every year brings to the stage different performances and voices, a unique challenge that the festival has met this year has been ensuring visas for performers. “A work visa is geared for doctors and teachers, not artists,” Hendren explained. “We have a horrible system.” This year, performers from Ukraine were denied visas to perform at the festival upon arrival in the US, and a volunteer from the UK was turned away upon entry. “It's so disheartening,” Hendren said, “The assumption that everyone wants to leave their own country and live here is absurd. … The system in place now is expensive and you have to prove years of 'international recognition' in order to be approved. … How do you do that for a folk band in a small village in Tanzania? Or a political performance artist from Venezuela?” Revolutions' explicit objective is to bring voices of young, experimental artists not often given a platform here to the forefront, which makes these hurdles troublesome. “It has been really frustrating,” Hendren concluded, “but it makes me want to do more of it. … When I travel somewhere new, it is never what I thought it would be, and I learn so much. That is what the festival is about. … I want marginalized voices to have a stage here.”
One of the performances that will Revolutions will offer up is Hulyet, hulyet, an immersive installation and performance from Teatr Figur Kraków. Designed as a collaboration between the company and the Historical Museum of the City of Kraków, specifically the Oskar Schindler's Enamel Factory Branch, the performance is built around seven mansion stages, built in old suitcases. Inspired by photographs of residents of the Jewish Kraków ghetto, the piece is a moving account of the lives that played out there, and works as a preservation of the lives that played out there. Director and performer Dagmara Żabska answered a few questions about Hulyet, hulyet via email.
Alibi: What touched you about the images that inspired this piece?
Żabska: Each picture is a different story. The one which made the hugest impact on me, is a picture of the little boy, like 4 years old, standing alone on an empty street. I’m a mother. My child is never alone. In the ghetto every adult person had to work, so there were a number of lonely small kids on the streets. Another picture is a group of kids sitting on the bench with their grandfather. The girl is playing with a hula-hoop. They are calm and safe. I think it was taken before the war. So, when we look at this happy kid and, [knowing] what we know, we can’t not tell this story.
What do you hope audiences in New Mexico might learn by watching this performance?
At first sight, this is a story about Kraków's ghetto, and Polish Jews, who were our neighbors for the last 600 years, and they are not any more. So somehow, this is a story about empty place, [that] you can’t fill in any way. But this is also a story about war, and first of all about main victims of the war, children. What does war make of them? So in this context, unfortunately, it is quite universal. We have thousands of refugees, wars in Syria, Ukraine and other places, global migration. I would like to put our attention to this. One thing is to survive. The second thing is to rebuild their world—relations, family, safeness and somehow, childhood.
What are the challenges that come with making art about the past?
First of all, I didn’t want to pretend that we know anything. [The] only thing we could do was to try to imagine the situation. We are not actors on the stage, we are not dressed up. I don’t have a character to perform, on the stage it’s me who is telling a story. Second thing, … I wanted people start thinking, not just cry. The last thing was to make it intimate. We wanted to give the audience an individual experience.
Did you learn anything in creating Hulyet, hulyet?
Of course I learned a lot about the past, war, anti-Semites, heroes. I also have learned something about myself. I had to deal with these stories. … I [was] glad to find my own perspective. But there is another thing—I think I found the way I want to make theater. I learned that theater can make a difference. And also, that [it] is needed.
Hendren echoed those thoughts—that theater can make a difference, that it is very much needed here and now. “Artists are the voice of the people,” she observed. “I want Revolutions … to be a platform for artists' voices … that US citizens don't access much. … I want the world to be a better place after three weeks of global art.”
Revolutions International Theatre Festival runs for three weeks, from March 6, to March 25, at various venues throughout the city. To find the full schedule, complete information on performers and to buy tickets, visit tricklock.com.