Directing Thesis Interview: Broken April
January 20, 2018
A new directing thesis is coming to Lenfest Center for the Arts: Broken April, directed by Arthur Makaryan '18 and adapted by Ned Moore '18, opens on January 24th and will run until January 28th, 2018.
"Deep in the mountains, a young man is caught up in a blood feud that has plagued his family for generations. With one month to live, he must make an impossible choice: break the cycle to fight for love, or surrender to fate. Broken April explores the true cost of forgiveness in a world of hate," says the play description.
Students Arthur Makaryan and Ned Moore are co-creators of the production. We talked with them to learn more about the play and their collaboration.
What’s vision you brought to this story?
Ned: I think the world of Broken April is one that American audiences don't often get to enter, which is in part what attracted us to the story in the first place. Broken April is a story about a boy named Gjorg. When Gjorg reaches adulthood, he must shoot and kill his neighbor—another young man of his age—and so avenge his murdered brother. The people of Gjorg's village follow an ancient set of laws called the Kanun. These laws say that, when one man kills another, he has only a month to live before he can legally be murdered by someone from the victim's family. These revenge killings—called Gjakmarrja, "blood lettings"—continue to plague villages in Northern Albania today. It is a story about the infectious nature of hatred, and what it means to choose love and consequently surrender your life.
The novel is historical fiction and stuffed with very specific historical references to Albania. Part of our vision for this adaptation was to depict the world of the Northern Albanian highlands without ever using the word "Albania." It can be hard to believe people actually lived under such regimented bureaucracies of hatred. Even though it's rooted in history, the story has an almost mythic quality. We wanted to bring that mythic-ness to the foreground. That's what felt so theatrical about the book in the first place.
Arthur: As a native Armenian, I am often forced to think about the topic of hatred for several reasons. The Armenian Genocide was the Ottoman government's systematic extermination of 1.5 million Armenians in 1915. 103 years later, they still deny it and the border remains closed. In 1988 in Nagorno Karabakh war broke out between Armenia and Azerbaijan. That border closed as well, and is now referred to as a “black region” for Armenians. We are a country that is very much being manipulated by Russia for strategic geographical position. So, we have two closed borders which are often being manipulated by one powerful country, and the only open borders are with Georgia and Iran, who are not exactly allies, either. One can go crazy as a child in that world where from the moment you’re born, you are a soldier. To be a soldier you need to have rage, which comes from hate. How otherwise can you kill someone? How do we deal with the isolation and hatred that is driving those countries? Where does the hate come from? Why do people hate? The novel Broken April revealed all of these questions and more. I connected with the story immediately and I felt it was the perfect material to start a research laboratory with several devoted theatre practitioners. They are the heart of this play. They have generously invested their time and energy into researching and sharing their interpretations of the story.
This is the first Directing thesis that has co-authors. Did the project start as a collaboration? What was the inspiration, who approached whom?
N: Arthur approached me a little over a year ago. The idea for a performance that explores questions of hatred emerged during our Collaboration II class in Fall 2016, around the time of the election. In 2017 Arthur formed a company of actors and created a devised performance in response to the book. From our feedback at those workshops, we realized the most important thing was to have a script. That's what led to my decision to become a co-author.
A I have been collaborating with Ned since the first year of our studies as director and dramaturg. Coming from another culture it can be hard to find collaborators who understand your culture and accept you as you are, rather than impose on you the American culture. Ned is open to exploring in a very intelligent way and asking the right questions. At some point in our studies we knew we would be working together but we did not know it was going to be this soon. When I had created the company with several performers, we needed a dramaturg who would help us in shaping the story as we were bringing various materials into the room and experimenting, someone who would fuse all the fragments into one “language”. Ned eagerly agreed to catalogue and synthesize it all into a play written in a very delicate and specific language, keeping the folkloric sense of the world that the novel was written in. I am extremely thankful to him for listening to all of my stories and experiences in Armenia and for incorporating them into the play. For me, this play feels like a homecoming.
Why did you want to do this play now?
A: There are so many countries now in the world that deal with cultures of hatred on religious, geographical, and many more levels and we felt it is time to avoid mob mentalities and identify the self that can see through faked history. So far, our company has come to one conclusion: that being Armenian, Brazilian, American, Danish, Iranian, Chinese, South Korean, French, Chilean, Dutch—each one of us wants to escape a culture of hatred and identify ourselves. We are searching for answers, and we hope that the presence of the audience will generate dialogue and give this topic a public platform.
N: For me, the impetus to tackle this topic now arose from watching what happened to this country during the 2016 election. I don't know of a time in American history that has felt so polarizing, so politically black-and-white with no middle ground, so saturated with vitriol and so bereft of civil discourse. Broken April offers us a glimpse into a world in which blind hate has utterly consumed both sides of an opposition.
Any advice about collaboration?
N: I think the most important thing to practice in a collaborative process is what some people call "active listening." That means not only listening, but showing your collaborators that you are listening, making them feel heard. That way, when disagreements come up, things don't get emotional; all options are always taken into consideration, and the process of making the right decision for the show becomes a very practical matter. In my experience, whenever a collaboration goes sour, it can always be traced back to someone or several people in the process not feeling heard.
A: Collaborations may start with collisions, frustration, senses of not being heard, but all of that can be overcome if you approach your collaborators from a patient and loving place. Collaboration is a place of change towards the better. If it does not affect and heal the people involved in the project, the audience will not leave the theatre as a better human