New Plays Festival Interview: Nako Adodoadji '18 & Melis Aker'18

May 2, 2018

The Playwrights 2018 New Plays Festival consists of the 2018 MFA Playwriting Class Thesis Projects and its running until May 12th in two locations: the Flexible Performance Space at Lenfest Center for the Arts and the Ford Foundation Studio at Pershing Square Signature Center.


Opening this week are Nako Adodoadji's Kill Hamlet and Melis Aker’s Field, AwakeningWe talked with these playwrights to find out more about their plays and the process of producing.


What inspired you to write this play? 


Nako (Kill Hamlet): I started writing this play in 2009 - then it was called Opehlia’s Madness, or The Breaking, and the protagonist was Ophelia. I’ve always been fascinated by her character in Hamlet.  She’s someone who is little paid attention to in the plot and once she dies, she’s barely mentioned. I wanted to give her agency in her own story, so I started writing a play about her. Cut to a decade later, and the protagonist has turned into a mid-career playwright named Alexandra who is a hyper-version of myself. I realized the thing I needed to put in the play was what initially drew me to Ophelia, the lack of control in her life and the grief and depression she experiences during Hamlet. That struggle for control and familiarity with grief and depression is something I can deeply relate to, so the play very organically became Kill Hamlet. And the idea of killing Hamlet or the question of what happens after Hamlet dies became a metaphor for what happens when we experience seismic shifts in our lives. How do we handle those shifts? How do we reclaim ourselves in the midst of change? The play asks these questions and poses some answers, but it also leaves a lot of room for the audience to interpret what killing Hamlet means.  


Melis (Field, Awakening): The genesis of this play was a consequence of my and a few friends’ experience, politically and personally, on the eve of the attempted 2016 coup d'etat in Turkey. Although throughout the process of writing and collaboration, I was consciously straying away from making this piece be *about* the coup—a retelling, or a Brechtian platform for political outreach. I wanted to have everything that occurs on the narrative level be, in some ways, a microcosm of the grander, more dangerous implications that remain in the backdrop as a group of old friends are forced to come to terms with each other. The story is one that is deeply personal, and very much an attempt at understanding the underlying facets of home, or the lack there of, and being of two worlds at the same time. 

What are the main challenges you have faced in writing and producing this play? 


Nako: This is a beast of a play that demands a lot of time and resources, so it was a challenge working on a micro-budget and dealing with limited rehearsal hours. We had to be creative about how we presented the show, managed our budget and coordinated our rehearsals in-order to pull off the production. Ultimately, we decided to present the play as a workshop production, so that we could focus less on the production design and more on the workshop process.  


Melis: The more surreal character of the dog (Che Ronaldo Guevara) continues to be a challenge for me in understanding its political and emotional implications in the narrative dramaturgy of the piece. Other than that, it has been a serious gift to be able to have the play staged for me to hear where to trim, and why, and to hear where actor's struggled with the language, which is usually an amazing indicator of missing logic.



Is there a specific faculty member or peer that especially inspired you while at the School of the Arts? If so, who and how?


Nako: David H. Hwang taught me to have grace with my work, Lynn Nottage helped me understand how to speak about my work, and Blair Singer empowered me to be fearless in presenting my work. 


Melis: I have all of my classmates, David, Lynn, Chuck and Anne to thank for bringing me to the point of even recognizing some of these questions, which I realized I’ve been grappling with for the past three years. So in many ways, this play does feel like a final culmination of my experience here. My heart and gratitude goes out to my Columbia family.



If you could change one thing about theatre, what would it be?


Nako: The definition of what a play is or can be. I think theatre is expansive enough to include many narrative structures, forms and styles.


Melis: This is such a difficult question! AH! I would say that usually when I initiate a story in my head and on the paper for a theatrical purpose, it's usually about something that I don't really understand, or something I'm grappling with. And in doing the piece, through my collaborators, I gain a better understanding of what it is I'm struggling with at the core. I wouldn't change one bit of this process! I find the ephemeral and fleeting nature of theatre to be both its gift and its Achilles heel. Because essentially, we can only rely on first impressions in the theatre. There are no repeats, and if there are, the same audience member is always watching a different iteration. It is a different experience each time. This is something that's difficult to gauge from the creative end, but still, I'm not sure I would want to change it. 


by Nako Adodoadji
May 3, 8:00 PM
May 4, 2:30 PM
May 5, 7:30 PM

In a twist of meta-theatrical fate, a mid-career playwright named Alexandra comes face to face with her creation, a young heroine named Ophelia, who has been tasked with killing her former lover, Hamlet, the Prince of Denmark. Unwittingly, Alexandra switches places with Ophelia and is forced into a world in which she has little to no control.


by Melis Aker
May 2, 2:30 PM
May 4, 8:00 PM
May 5, 2:30 PM

After ten years of self-imposed estrangement from her country, Rana is reunited with three old friends on a soccer field in Istanbul on July 15th 2016 (the eve of the attempted coup d’etat in Turkey), only to realize what it was that really drove them apart. Spanning across the surreal events of one evening, interweaving the world of the soccer field with a lost dog and a mysterious encounter on cyber space, Field, Awakening is a "stranger in a strange land" tale masked under a homecoming.