Miranda Haymon & In the Penal Colony

Jamar Brathwaite, David Glover, and Dhari Noel

Name: Miranda Haymon

Tell us about you. 

I am a queer black woman working as a director, writer and deviser of performance. I am a cultural anthropologist working in the theater—using research, lived experiences, palpable, recognizable aspects of the human condition and suffering to create my work. My work is imaginative, intuitively political and bold. I create a combination of sonic, physical and visual languages to drive the work forward, focusing on embodied storytelling from which the audience can extract meaning from. I run my rehearsal room with courage in experimentation, an attention to detail, and a larger awareness of the bigger picture, in how the story is getting told, how the representation is being received, and what the impact of the work can and should be. I involve my actors and collaborators in every step of this aggressive yet guided experimentation. My work is literary, not literal; viewers shouldn’t expect to see literal references. I show recognizable gestures and movements, but defamiliarize them over the course of the performance. The meaning of my work is not fixed as in an essay or a book. My approach allows for my work to hold more than one meaning, to be encyclopedic, poetic, metaphoric. While the movement may look abstract, I am not interested in cold abstraction, emptied of meaning, but instead an electric one, pregnant with allusions. Audiences can and should draw their own conclusions, with the hope that everyone views the work through their personal experience, morals, biases and privileges. I believe my audiences derive meanings more profound that they then have ownership over, instead of me spoon-feeding meaning to them. My work extends the praxis of Boal and Brecht by involving the audience in their own complicity. I am not afraid to leave the audience with more to chew on after the performance is over. I am not interested in making things clean or easily digestible.

Tell us about your current project? 

“In the Penal Colony”, adapted from Franz Kafka’s short story of the same name, investigates the performance of power, patriarchy, and punishment. Three black men convene on an unnamed penal colony and challenge the presumptions of the worth of a human body, asking what it means for black male bodies to exist: in the media, when observed, when consumed, when punished. “In the Penal Colony” attempts to dramatize the physical plight of the black male body using dance, music, and sound to weave together the history of its corporeality. We focus the fulcrum of the narrative on the original story: a condemned prisoner on an unnamed penal colony, without knowledge of his own judgment. Gradually he discovers it through an elaborate torture and execution machine that carves the sentence of the condemned on his skin before letting him die. The adaptation of this short story asks, “What judgments have black men been forced to learn on their own body?” We add to Kafka’s bizarre, bureaucratic original text with physical gestures that are directly related to how we’ve seen black male bodies used, consumed, presented, and punished in our history books and in the media: on chain gangs, as apes, as professional athletes, as slaves. We draw a parallel between Kafka’s unnamed, fictitious penal colony and the history of spectatorship surrounding its machine to our own American history of spectatorship and pleasure in witnessing black men at their most physical extremes, whether it’s on the court, in the prison yard, or in the cotton fields. The adaptation brings blackness, masculinity, punishment, justice, performance, and the patriarchy into dialogue. “In the Penal Colony” is a reclamation for the black artists involved in its creation. We, the black creators and performers, repurpose a story written by a white man in 1914 to tell a portion of our own history, spanning from 1619 when our first ancestor stepped off the boat to now, when a football player takes a knee during the National Anthem. We are inserting ourselves into a story that was not made for us, carving out a space for our narratives to come to the forefront.

Where are you performing your show and why is it a good fit for your production? 

We are performing our show at Next Door @ NYTW. As an incoming 2050 Directing Fellow at the Workshop, I consider it to be one of my artistic homes. To have the opportunity to showcase a work that is so near and dear to my heart, as well as is exactly the kind of work I want to be making feels like a perfect unison between fate and resources. Additionally, Next Door creates a space for artists that are producing their own work, which is essential to the NYC theatre landscape, so I am proud to be part of that community.

What’s next for you? 

This fall I am spending time writing as a 2019 SPACE on Ryder Farm Creative Resident and I will be directing WE ARE PROUD TO PRESENT… by Jackie Sibblies-Drury at Sarah Lawrence College. In 2020, I will be directing the world premiere of Dave Harris’s EXCEPTION TO THE RULE at the Roundabout Underground.

What is the name of the last show you saw? 

A Strange Loop.

Any advice for your peers?

“Treat your career like a garden—some seeds won’t grow until much later in the season and others you water and they sprout right away! Tend to your garden in such a way that you always have one thing ready to harvest, one thing you just watered and are waiting to see how it turns out, and some seeds that require a lot of care but might not bloom for a long, long time. Grow where you are planted.”

Show Info:

When: July 11-28

Where: Next Door at New York Theatre Worshop at 79 E 4th St, New York, NY 10003,

Tickets: General Admission starting at $35

Website: https://www.nytw.org/show/in-the-penal-colony/

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