Abby Felder, writer and co-creator of Pioneers Go East Collective's HILDEGARD (vision) took time out from rehearsals to answer our 6 Questions about the show, migraines and working at La MaMa.
1. What was the inspiration for creating HILDEGARD (vision)?
Ever since I first read her work, I’ve been fascinated by this nun who had visions she believed were shown to her by God, and who despite living in medieval times wrote poetic philosophical texts and produced art and music that are attributed to her and still known today.
In Oliver Sacks’ book, Migraine, he discusses how Hildegard’s descriptions of her visions and of God, things like, “A fiery light, of the greatest flashing brightness, coming out of a cloudless sky,” are typical migraine aura, the hallucinations experienced during migraine that are caused by a wave traveling across the visual cortex of the brain that actually makes the process of sight, visible.
Her experience of migraine were at the root of her texts and artwork, and enabled her to transcend the limitations of her gender and role within her faith. In addition, the phases of a migraine cycle actually mirror a traditional dramaturgical arc, with a prologue of sorts, leading to a climax and resolution, and are frequently triggered by an emotional event. From this overlap the idea and structure of HILDEGARD (vision), in which one of her visions is brought to life, was born.
2. What was the most interesting thing you learned about Hildegard when writing the show?
It’s hard to point to the most interesting thing as she was such a polymath: in addition to being a mystic philosopher and artist and composer, she was a practitioner of early medicine, a gardener, and an agent of reform.
She was a powerful woman at a time when women did not have power, and it’s interesting how she not only survived, but thrived, in these circumstances.
One tactic for survival was she frequently presented herself as uneducated and ignorant, even though her work is in conversation with other philosophers such as Plato and St. Augustine.
In a letter she wrote to a fellow visionary (referred to in the script), she says to continue to work, she must make people think she is incapable of interpreting her own visions, so it is understood by the broader community that she is merely a mouthpiece of God, and not the originator of these very complex ideas. It shows how important creating work was to her.
3. Do you think of your work as political?
While the work we do at Pioneers Go East Collective has a social relevance, I don’t think of HILDEGARD as overtly political. In the piece Hildegard rejects a young nun named Richard is with whom historically it is known she had a relationship, possibly a romantic relationship. In the context of the show this act points to the sacrifices women in particular must make to achieve success- yes she has agency but at a cost. Though she is a medieval figure, this is a contemporary theme.
Ultimately all of our work circles back to the media we use, and in this piece, it is the creative process from which she derives her agency, making it a celebration of the importance of telling our stories through music, poetry, painting, etc as a way of experiencing fundamental truths and finding meaning in our lives.
4. Who inspires you?
For this particular piece, Hildegard's writing, painting and compositions of course were the starting point, and Oliver Sacks- his discussion of migraine and its function in illuminating meaning in human experience is fascinating.
Migraine has been described as originating in the part of the brain that controls sleep- which connects to dreams and the unconscious- so a lot of additional inspiration was taken from the surrealists, including Jan and Eva Svankmajer, Czech visual and literary artists, and it was interesting to research symbols of unconscious expression outlined by Jung and Freud.
5. What was the last interesting book you read?
I’m in the midst of a couple books rights now, both as research for Pioneers Go East’s next piece about the textile industry in the American South at the turn of the 20th century. One is about Ella Mae Wiggins, a folk singer/songwriter who lived in Gastonia, North Carolina who wrote protest ballads about working conditions, called THE MARTYR OF LORAY MILL, and I’m rereading Carson McCullers’ beautiful book THE HEART IS A LONELY HUNTER.
6. What does working at La MaMa mean to you?
It's amazing- the spirit and energy of the place, not to mention the support of the La MaMa family are wonderful. Actually Ellen Stewart and Hildegard have some commonalities - they were both pioneering women who pushed the boundaries of artistic expression, so it seems really apt actually to be presenting this piece in this space.
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La MaMa in association
with Pioneers Go East Collective present
Created and Designed by Gian Marco Lo Forte, Abby Felder and John SullyDirected by Gian Marco Lo Forte; Written by Abby Felder; Composed by John SullyFeatured Performers: Marina Celander, Nehprii Amenii, Seth Gilman, Kamala Sankaram, Daniel Diaz, Tali Custer
December 3 - 20, 2015
Thursdays - Saturdays at 7:30; Sundays at 2pm
La MaMa First Floor Theater
74A East 4th Street
(between Bowery and Second Avenue)
New York, NY 10003
Tickets: $18 Adults; $13 Students/Seniors; ten $10 tickets are available for every performance as part of La MaMa's 10@$10 ticketing initiative (advance sales only)
For Tickets and Info: CLICK HERE