Can you talk about "Not Man Apart Physical Theatre Ensemble", the work you do, and why it's your mission to bring athleticism and physicality into theatrical performances?
John Farmanesh-Bocca: Movement and dance in storytelling is as ancient as storytelling itself. Ultimately all theatre and emotion is physical in my opinion. We are taking it to a fully committed extreme. I started Not Man Apart to do a few things, but bringing athleticism to theatre work was definitely in the top five.
Aaron Hendry: NMA seeks to push forward the form of theatre. to question the boundaries of what we think it means to “go see a play.” Often when something is billed as physical theatre it is either a dance show with a narrative element or a play that stops for a few dances along the way. We want to provide an experience in which the expression of the events is not just words and ideas but ALSO movement and dynamics.
What does your name, "Not Man Apart," mean?
JFB: I took our name from my favorite Robinson Jeffers Poem, “The Answer.” Here is a small excerpt:
"Integrity is wholeness,
the greatest beauty is
Organic wholeness, the wholeness of life and things,
the divine beauty of the universe. Love that,
Not Man Apart from that..."
What Jeffers is exerting in the whole poem is how the only truly ugly thing is mankind severed from himself and the same things mankind is made of, which is quite literally everything. He exerts that there is a oneness between war and peace, love and hate, an arm and a leg, the mind and the heart, a crashing meteor and violence to each other, a volcano eruption and the birth of a child. To understand and love this is to understand and love one’s part in the whole scheme, but if we sever this, disconnect from the whole, look away from the violence, see anything outside of us as an ‘other,’ rely too deeply on Man alone and cloud our heads with the hopes of universal peace, we are destined to suffer.
The work we do at Not Man Apart is somewhat self-evident, we try to include the profane and the profound in our work, the whole body, song, dance, universal nature. Usually the lesson is “Do Not Look Away.” It hopefully leads back to something Life-affirming by connecting us to the whole. We aspire to a kind of holistic theatre experience that attempts to bring a bit of this sentiment to light.
AH: I believe theatre offers discovery of who we are through community – we see ourselves deeply through others. In this day and time, I do not believe the “solutions” for the struggles of mankind will be found alone. They will be found together. Art reminds us of that.
Are all your works related to Greek myths? If so, why?
JFB: Not all, but we have a few of those, some Roman, some Jungian, some Shakespeare. Mostly we deal with the Epic. Greek myth is therefore a natural for us. We have a 4 play series of our work (Titus Redux, Hercules Furens, Lysistrata Unbound, Ajax in Iraq) that we have dubbed ‘our War Cycle.’
One Shakespeare, one Roman, one modern adaptation of a Greek play, one a wonderful intricate mash-up, which is Ajax. Each explores war from a different angle - The Warrior Coming Home, The Mother’s point of view, The Madness of War, then the Reasons and unseen Casualties of War.
In early 2016, with the critically acclaimed premiere of The Superhero and His Charming Wife, written and directed by Aaron Hendry, we started going in an exciting new direction while still firmly focused on The Epic.
Is dance written into the script, or do you decide to infuse the play with movement?
JFB: I usually approach all our work whether Shakespeare or contemporary by figuring out the movement narrative - Where does it fit? Is there room? Can we bring more to it? Or would we be detracting from it? Can it be made into this interesting other thing entirely that is worth doing? I ask myself, “how can I push the story forward with movement?” If it doesn’t push the story forward, that movement simply does not make the cut.
What kind of audience members are you most trying to reach? Civilians? Veterans? How do you expect people who may have been sexually abused or who experience PTSD to react when they see this play?
JFB: One of the handful of goals that means a lot to us is to bring the worlds of Veterans and Civilians closer together. To have more interaction and conversation with each other. To fight against the notion that each community is the ‘other.’
Civilians think what the armed services do is ‘unreal,’ but when you are serving on behalf of your country in a hostile environment with bullets and rockets whizzing by your head, dealing with the loss of life daily, it’s so ultra real, that returning to the U.S. after that, everything we obsess over and are focused on back home is completely ‘unreal’ to them. There is an inherent divide.
With regards to the latter question about how those who have deep trauma through war, rape, living with or around PTSD etc. and how they may be impacted. I believe it gives them a voice. Lets them know they are not alone. Permission to speak and to be understood, heard and accepted.
The Greek playwrights were all veterans of war. They mostly wrote about what they knew. Trauma was a big part of the discussion. Not something kept in the shadows, but spoken about in the town square, revealed in the Amphitheatre at night. We are charged as artists to continue that conversation and bring it to the fore. In the face of how it sounds, we are dedicated to do it in an enthralling, passionate and captivating way, so that no matter how uncomfortable the subject may be on paper or in conversation, the medium of performance takes that jagged pill and makes it inescapable and captivating and safe and permissible to look at and try to comprehend.
AH: Yes the goal is this: a mutual space for civilians, veterans, warriors, moms, accountants, poets…. Where we can see one another, and recognize that the struggles in this play are our struggles together. That we will recognize ourselves and be of best service when mankind finds a space together, NOT MAN APART.
Excerpted from a Q&A with Victoria Moy