22 Jun 2016
Good theatre is a powerful storytelling vehicle that explores universal themes about being human. That's why a play about deposing the Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu is relevant to kiwi drama students and Christchurch audiences, says Ara Institute of Canterbury's new Head of Acting Dr Soseh Yekanians.
For Mad Forest, set during the 1989 revolution in communist Romania, second year actors from the National Academy of Singing and Dramatic Art (NASDA) at Ara had to dig deep into their imaginations to bring the play to life.
Yekanians was determined that the story, which centres on two families, interspersed with eyewitness accounts of the fall of Ceaușescu, would resonate and impact. But how to make Mad Forest relevant to 19 year old students in New Zealand in 2016?
"Let's look at the world now. You have people who try to get into power and are so much like dictators. They are similar to Nicolae Ceaușescu who was charming and made fun of himself, but at the heart of it was not a very nice man.
"You look at pictures of Ceaușescu and think that butter wouldn't melt in his mouth, he's so loveable. Then you look at what he has done and you think 'where did that come from?'
"We set the play in Romania in the 1980s but we talked a lot about what is happening today so the students could find meaning in it."
Yekanians also drew on her own experience, growing up in a Sydney household that was ethnically and traditionally Armenian; a childhood infused with stories, including those of the Armenian independence movement that succeeded in 1991. Both the revolution and the prevalence of stories informs her work in the theatre today.
"In my culture storytelling is fundamental to who we are. Even when I was young I remember asking my mum about the sun and the moon and she had a story about that that was passed down to her though the generations. It's at the core of who we are."
Add in a father who is also a director and no wonder Yekanians is pulled towards the magic of the make believe world of theatre.
"I want to make the audience empathetic. Instead of lecturing them, if they can imagine themselves in that moment with those people, then what would they have done? With Mad Forest I want them to walk away and think 'that was great, but that circle of power and oppression can still happen today, that is not that far from what we see on TV'.
"I don't want them to go away and think they have to change their lives forever, but I do want them to think, and to open up discussions. I think that is the power of theatre; that it opens up dialogue about our lives right now."
Tickets are just $12 - $18, available from https://www.eventbrite.co.nz/e/nasda-presents-mad-forest-tickets-25807216078. Mad Forest is on at 130 Madras Street NASDA THEATRE, E BLOCK, City Campus, Madras Street, Christchurch, 24 – 30 June (except Sunday) at 7.30pm.