I'm proud to present this super rich blogterview about UNLISTED team member Cory Tamler!
Ellen: Describe this project in 7 words, or a haiku.
Cory: Young international artists meet old local spaces.
Ellen: Why this project now? Why Serbia?
Cory: One of the images that really struck me when I visited Belgrade for the first time in December/January was the American Embassy building. In 2008, demonstrations in Belgrade protesting the independence of Kosovo turned to riots, and rioters set the embassy ablaze (http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/feb/21/kosovo.serbia1). Since then, the building's windows have been boarded up and painted over, white to match the white of the remainder of its facade, and it's supposed to be a precautionary measure and everything, but my gut reaction on seeing it was: This building is blind. This is the structure that represents the United States in Serbia's capital, and it has this curiously eyeless, inward, disinterested look. It doesn't see the city around it, it's unaware.
American friends and family are always getting confused about where I'm headed. Siberia? Syria? Is Belgrade a city, or a country? I got the distinct impression while in Belgrade that the people with whom I interacted there were hungry to change what they perceived as a badly marred reputation in the U.S.; multiple Belgraders, finding out I was American, asked me to "tell Americans that Serbians are good people"; but Americans don't think that Serbia is a country of bad guys. Americans are, for the most part, just blind to the country. Me too, for that matter, I never had occasion to think about Serbia until Christina moved there, but after that visit I said yes, I very much want to work on this project with you, because I don’t believe that it is within art’s purview to spread messages, but I do believe art is about bridging cultures, communities, ideas. That bridging can lead to understanding. And that is what Belgraders seemed hungry for.
Ellen: What has been most rewarding and most challenging about the project thus far?
Cory: Distance, distance is always challenging. Every time I work on an international project like this, or even try to collaborate with people on parts of a project over a long distance, there comes a point when I ask why I put myself in these situations. Creating stuff is hard enough. Why make it harder? Why throw time differences and language barriers and culture shock and travel costs into the mix? UNLISTED has so many moving pieces, multiple curators, artists from all over, making it a complicated machine; and my role in the project is this strange sort of mix, this in-between thing, because I didn't initiate or design the project, I'm not one of the curators, but I've also become more than just a participating artist, taking on increased outreach/fundraising responsibilities - so navigating that role has been a challenge.
But I never feel frustrated with this kind of work for too long, because at the end of the day I do think it's worth the increased challenges. My German friend Nora, when we were working on Yinzerspielen's first real project in 2009, always used to say, "Let's be so open-minded that our brains fall out." This is the kind of attitude you have to take as an artist for this sort of work to be successful, because you end up realizing that what you're doing is not "combining" German and American theater, or American and Serbian theater, but rather creating something new: yes, it's a hybrid, but it's more, too, because when you're really working openly, you create an entirely new vocabulary together. It's a survival technique, sort of. Assumptions you didn't know you even had about theater and art get stripped naked. And you change as an artist, and so do your collaborators. And that begins shifts, at first imperceptible, maybe never really traceable, in artistic practice: not only yours, but the practice of people with whom you'll later work, and artists who see your work and are shifted by it...
I believe that international work's value lies primarily in the change it effects in its artistic participants. UNLISTED is built on an interesting concept: changing the way Belgraders see Belgrade by repurposing public space as performance space. That's great. Love it. But that goal could be achieved with an entirely local team. Why an international one? Outsider's gaze - yes. Sure. But to me the international portion of this project is more about the artists themselves. How will we change one another? What will we learn? What will this experience inspire us, down the road, to become?
Ellen: I know you are working with a playwright/dramturg :) Since dramaturgs are near and dear to me; I'd love to hear about how the dramaturg functioned in this specific process.
Cory: The process is still very new. Tanja Sljivar (http://wpic.riksteatern.se/blog/544) just officially came on to the project as my collaborator about a week and a half ago, which is later than we'd ideally planned to have a primary collaborator nailed down, but finding the right person was ultimately more important than finding someone immediately. Christina (who's curating our space), Tanja, and I have been emailing back and forth, tossing around thematic and other ideas for the space. My best guess is that Tanja's training as a dramaturg will be a significant tool in her kit that comes into play without Tanja ever functioning as "the dramaturg" for the piece. She and I both seem to identify primarily as writer-slashes, where the slash is "dramaturg" in her case and "director" in mine. The relationship needs more time to develop before I'll be able to say exactly how we work together, and what role specifically Tanja's dramaturgical background ends up playing.
Ellen: Where does this piece fit in your artistic history with Christina? How is the piece different from past projects, or conversely how is it culminating previous artistic questions?
Cory: I have to explain a bit about the birth of UNLISTED, the history of Yinzerspielen, etc. for this to make sense. I met Christina Kruise when we were both undergrads at the University of Pittsburgh, and sort of by chance we ended up in Germany together on a research abroad grant with a professor, not knowing each other and not having any pre-existing interest in Germany/German theater. We worked on a play with a group of German students at the University of Augsburg, and close friendships/partnerships began to develop all around. This was in the summer of 2008. After returning home, Christina and I started talking with Nora Schuessler, who ran the student theater organization we'd worked with in Augsburg. The three of us decided to produce something together - more ambitious than our first project, now that we knew one another; something that would bring young American and German theater artists together and examine the points of intersection and difference between American and German theater from a very hands-on perspective. The idea being, the best way to know how the two differ is for Americans and Germans to try to work together, fully collaboratively, to put up a show.
In the end, Nora and I each wrote a one-act play, and then Christina and I brought three freshly-graduated Pittsburgh actors to Augsburg for a month and a half, where we were joined by seven German student actors. We rehearsed and put up the plays in Augsburg. Then Nora and I did some rewrites, Nora came to Pittsburgh with five German actors, we shuffled around casting and brought on some new Pittsburgh performers, and put up the plays in Pittsburgh. We called our Pittsburgh version "Yinzerspielen": a combination of the slang term for a Pittsburgher, "yinzer," with the German word meaning "to play." This was a landmark project for me because it solidified partnerships with Christina and Nora, who have become two of the most important people in my life artistically and personally, and it cemented my commitment to international work. I think Europeans often don't realize how rare it can be for Americans to get to work internationally, because in Europe, countries bump up against one another like states do here; exchange with other European countries is rich and frequent, but there's not a lot of interest in working with American theater artists, and often there's a perception that American artists aren't interested in that sort of exchange. Which is maybe true, I don't know. Maybe Christina and I are the oddballs.
Since that project, which happened in 2009, Christina and I actually have not lived in the same city, but we've kept in constant contact and have done a couple of smaller-scale projects together. Another University of Pittsburgh colleague and close friend, Patrick Berger, got pulled into the mix, and as the three of us continued to converse and collaborate in various permutations and blog about things, we decided to repurpose the name "Yinzerspielen" to mean...well, we're not quite sure what yet, although we've been using it for about a year and a half now to label our projects. But we are still figuring out what makes a project a Yinzerspielen project, and I don't think UNLISTED is a Yinzerspielen project, exactly, although Christina and I are both deeply involved.
UNLISTED began to take shape last fall when Christina was studying in Belgrade, where she's working on her M.A. in International Performance Research. Ana Letunic and Monika Ponjavic, the two other curators/creators behind UNLISTED, are program-mates of Christina's, and they were interested in the perspective they felt they could bring to the city's public/unused spaces as newcomers and outsiders. So UNLISTED is something that developed independently of Yinzerspielen, independently of my long-standing collaboration with Christina, and I was invited on later to work as a participating artist in the space that Christina is curating. And as I mentioned, my role has evolved into something that's a little more than participating artist, but I'm not organizing this on the same level as I've done with Christina in the past.
Ellen: What do you wish people asked you about your work? What do you most want to share?
Cory: People are always asking me what I like to write about, and I somehow find that a really uninteresting question to answer. I think it's because I'm interested in everything - I've always had that problem, it's why it's such a mouthful to explain what I have a B.A. in - and I enjoy writing about anything, absolutely anything, once I get interested in it; and actually I'm a form-ophile: I love playing with form. Earlier that would have just meant the form of a play itself, its structure; but now, as I've spent the last few years not only writing, but producing and collaborating, I'm interested in the form of everything. I'm interested in taking each project as a whole, living creature. I want to find the right structure for each project, the one that will fit it and enable it to be the most fruitful it can be.
People tend to assume that theater works a certain way, so that shapes the sorts of questions they ask me about my work, whereas I'm interested in questioning what theater is.
Ellen: Thank you so much for all or your thoughts!
Where can we learn more about the project?
Cory: Our fundraiser, running until September 6, has a good overview and a short video that introduces Christina, Monika, and Ana, as well as the past work of some of the participating artists: http://www.usaprojects.org/project/unlisted_twice_in_a_lifetime
The UNLISTED homepage, hosted on Yinzerspielen's site, has more information, including an up-to-date list of participating artists, links to samples of our past work, and images from the spaces we're using: http://www.yinzerspielen.org/current-projects/unlisted
And we try to post updates as much as we can on the Yinzerspielen blog (yinzerspielen.org/blog) and Facebook pages.
Cory’s plays have been produced in Pittsburgh, Chicago, Troy NY, Augsburg, Germany, and in Scarborough, ME, where she was the playwright for Open Waters Theater Arts‘ Of Farms and Fables, a community-based, collaboratively built theater project conceived by director Jennie Hahn that put farmers and farm workers onstage alongside professional actors in a play about the future of agriculture. She was a 2010/2011 Fulbright Scholar to Berlin and a guest blogger at the 2011 Theatertreffen. Her most recent projects include: Casa de Pessoa, an "apartment play" she co-wrote/co-directed with Patrick Berger in August, NYC; New Men for The Neapolitans, coming to Chicago in September. ory is a co-founder of Yinzerspielen and currently lives in Brooklyn.And, of course, her collaboration on a piece for UNLISTED with Tanja Sljivar, Tijana Kondic, and Milica Stefanovic.