Monday, January 20, 2014

6 Questions: Romana Soutus


Romana Soutus is creating/curating Drink with Death, coming to The Club @ La MaMa on February 14th. We asked Romana 6 Questions about the show and about herself: 

1. What was the initial inspiration for Drink with Death
My ideas have a tendency to marinate in my head for a really long time before they become what they “are”. I first started thinking about the idea that ultimately became “Drink with Death” while I was listening to the Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds “Murder Ballads” album while I was walking down the street. I was listening to “The Kindness of Strangers” and it starts off with this lovely piano intro, and I hadn’t heard this song previously, and the first lines Nick Cave purrs are “They found Mary Bellows cuffed to bed/With a rag in her mouth and a bullet in her head”, and I literally stopped in the middle of the street and was so struck by the line. I kept walking and thought, “how many other really beautiful songs were slipping in these incredibly dark lyrics and I didn’t realize?”. So I kind of fell down the rabbit hole of murder ballads and I just couldn’t stop listening. They were beautiful, at times humorous, and always highly entertaining. I would listen to these songs on the subway and all the while I was thinking “does anyone know or can hear the crazy lyrics that are playing out of my headphones right now???”, and then it hit me, we don’t really talk about death at all really. It’s a thing we just kind of accept is a river of muck and mire that lives under everything but we never think bout or acknowledge it really as a constant in our lives. Slowly but surely murder ballads and musicians and bars full of dead people populated my dreams until the universe that is “Drink with Death” just kind of manifested itself.  

2. What is/was the most challenging element in making this show? 
The fact that we’re creating this piece in a total of a week. Half of the team is from Canada and the other half is based here in New York. I couldn’t image not working with the Canadian team. I’d met them last year when I was working on a production by one of La MaMa’s resident theatre companies’ Yara Arts Group’s production of “Midwinter Night”. They were all part of the Canadian “balkan-klezmer-gypsy-party-punk-super band” The Lemon Bucket Orkestra and I was blown away by each and every one of the band members’ musical capacities and sheer artistry. I kept in contact with them over the past year and I kept on being blown away not only by them but the other musical and theatrical projects they had. When I finally decided to dive in and do this show I couldn’t think of more incredible musicians that could make this play come to life. That being said, there is the whole coming down + time constraint thing, so I said “LETS DO IT!”, and they’re coming down and we’re making a show in a week. Its completely insane but I can only expect that it’ll provide a fire under our asses to really make this go with a bang. I can’t wait to see what the awesome musicians from New York can create together with the team from Canada. 

3. How is music important to the show? 
We’re talking about something difficult and thorny, Death. The reason why we're doing the show is also difficult and thorny, because no one really wants to talk about it. I think that what is so incredibly powerful about music is that its hits us on this incredibly visceral level that cannot be explained. We listen to a fantastic song and *pow* we get punch in the stomach and can’t stop moving our feet or shaking with enjoyment. What better way to talk about something so incredibly difficult like death and find the beauty, humor, joy and tragedy than through the visceral experience of music? Not to mention LIVE music! I mean, whose heart doesn’t palpitate with uncontrollable emotion when we watch someone strike a chord that just speaks to us? 

4. When did you know that you would that you wanted a career in the arts? 
I had two moments when I realized I wanted a career in the arts. 

The first was in second grade when I was cast as the Frog in my school’s production of “The Toad & The Frog”. I had a wicked huge crush on the narrator and was completely positive that being cast as the titular frog would automatically cause his little 2nd grade heart to jump out of his chest (I had my priorities straight at a very young age, obviously). But once I got on stage I kind of forgot about the boy and fell in love with being there. I had my first ever “theatrical blackout” where I got off stage and didn’t remember a single thing that happened on stage besides the incredible rush and joy of being there. 

The second was after I got rejected from every theatre school I applied to my senior year of high school. I was totally heartbroken. I decided to go to Fordham University, where I had applied as a non-theatre major. While we were touring the school on my first day my mom points to the Theatre department’s call board where auditions for the student studio season were being posted. I signed up for everything because non-majors could audition for student directed shows. I got cast and throughout the whole rehearsal process I kept thinking “this is the perfect theatre department for me. Why didn’t I apply here?!” After the show’s premiere I had a conversation with the head of the Theatre department, Matthew Maguire, auditioned for the program, and was in it the next semester. I’ve never looked back since. 

5. Name someone or something that inspires you. 
I’m inspired by countless things, but the one thing that has been a constant inspiration in my life has got to be my mom. I got incredibly lucky in that I grew up with a loud, confident and vivacious woman. I’m an only child, but instead of doing the whole “you stay home with the babysitter” thing my parents took me to all of their parties. My mom was by far the most interesting woman in the world to watch at a party. She would be in the corner telling a story that got the whole room hooked on her every word then she’d turn around and have this incredibly intimate moment with someone. Not to mention the fact that all the while she was balancing a 24/7 kind of job and she still managed to never miss a show. I’m still kind of amazed at how much of a badass she is. So every time I throw a script across the room and go “I just don’t get it!”; I think about my mom, I breathe, and then when I get back to the page something seemed to have re-charged in me and I get it. 

6. What does working at La MaMa mean to you? 
To say that working at La MaMa is a dream come true for me is more than an understatement. I was really shy and a bit of a loner growing up, so reading was a big source of comfort for me. Through my reading of theatre history and the avant-garde movement of the 60s and 70s I stumbled upon Ellen Stewart and La MaMa and I fell in love. It was everything I wanted to be doing in theatre. It was the epitome of the experimental art form for me. Then I started to do work with La MaMa about a year, year and a half ago and I went “oh my god, everyone here is so incredibly wonderful”. You think about institutions that produce the work of geniuses like Sam Shepard or Andrei Serban and you automatically assume that there is an elitism that is completely nonexistent at La MaMa. Ellen Stewart really was everyone’s mama and the familial atmosphere that she fostered lives on through the incredible leadership of Mia Yoo. There hasn’t been a time that I’ve walked into the offices and not gotten a big hug or a big plate of food. I consider myself honored to be part of the family.

La MaMa presents
Drink with Death
By Romana Soutus

February 14 – February 16, 2014

A Cabaret Extravaganza curated by Romana Soutus The evening features murder ballads as performed by international musicians, a clown show, and countless unexpected twists and turns. Seize the opportunity to break down the walls we put up between ourselves and our mortality and instead find the humor, tragedy, pain and beauty that comes with society’s greatest fear.

Tickets: $18 Adults; $13 Students/Seniors; a limited number of $10 tickets are available to everyone, IN ADVANCE for every performance as part of La MaMa's 10 @ $10 ticketing initiative. Not available day of show.

For Tickets and Info: Click Here