Image courtesy In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre
Patrons who attend In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre's Hidebound over the next two weeks will see a piece that is part of a much greater and grander whole, as the show is part of a 17-play cycle by Erik Ehn.
The full cycle, Soulographie: Our Genocides, will get an run later in November in New York. Director Alison Heimstead has crafted a single fragment for the Twin Cities audience, which will then travel for the full festival.
Heimstead has known the playwright for years, and had previously mounted one of Ehn's earlier works. "He loves puppets, and some of the pieces in this cycle could be done with puppets. He got in contact with me," she says. "He is an amazingly giving playwright who is willing to change stuff. He is interested in the process rather than being completely married to the text."
The whole cycle looks at genocide from both a global and local perspective. Hidebound looks at the conquest of the indigenous people of North and Central America through the eyes of a conquistador. The text "is very fractured and poetry-like. It lends itself to puppetry," Heimstead says. "With puppets, you have extra pauses. It's not quite actors delivering dialogue. It's one step removed, like Erik's text is one step removed from standards like Ibsen or Shakespeare."
The entire project has been in development for the past two and a half years. "He had the set of plays that he wanted. He breaks it out into these different perspectives, from the witness to the victim to the perpetrator," Heimstead says. "I felt more comfortable with a play from the perpetrator's perspective."
While Heimstead has done considerable research into the topic, "I still feel like I am trying to fully understand what has happened."
One of the entrances into the topic has been to focus away from the conquistador and over to the henchmen, the "barbeque eaters."
"The best way to look at it is through these middle men who haven't made it to the top. They would throw each other under the bus to get there," she says.
The short piece does come to a resolution, even though it is meant to be part of a larger whole. For audiences in the Twin Cities who won't be able to make it out to New York, a series of salons have been scheduled to help explore the full issues at play.
"There's a big range of people, including historians, spoken-word artists, and a cultural anthropologist," Heimstead says. There will also be a display in the theater's lobby that features all 17 pieces in the sequence. The playwright will be on hand Friday evening to talk about the project.
Heimstead thinks of the whole experience "as an exorcism. There's a growth in empathy and awareness about how genocide has happened. It's too lofty of a goal to say, 'I'm trying to end genocide.' I'm creating a space for people to consider it and as to why."
In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre
1500 E. Lake St., Minneapolis
8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays; 3 p.m. Sunday
Through October 28
For information, call 612.721.2535 or visit online