4 Questions for Naïma Kristel Phillips (TIME SUITES: CAMILLE ET RODIN)

Naïma Kristel Phillips, playwright of TIME SUITES: CAMILLE ET RODIN (running this weekend, April 8-10, at Schapiro Studio), took some time out of a busy tech week to answer some questions about the play from the VIP crew:

Question 1: Your new play is an adaptation of Pygmalion, based on the relationship between Camille Claudel and Auguste Rodin. What the connection (for you, in your play) between Claudel/Rodin and the Pygmalion myth in your play?

Naïma Kristel Phillips: When I wrote a short adaptation of Ovid’s Pygmalion last year, I started with a question: what if years into the marriage with the man who made her into the image of Venus, the pretty woman revolts? What if inside that beautiful body, there is a monstrous voice that’s bursting to free itself from a body which it perceives as hideous? Then came the fantasy of setting a piece and a relationship in an art studio. The famous sculptors, Claudel and Rodin, and their tumultuous love affair came to mind. They were everything to each other – mentor, artist, muse and lover – at a time when that combination was an impossibility. Claudel suffered tremendously for it: she spent the last 30 years of her life in an asylum.

Question 2. Your play incorporates excerpts of letters of Rainer Maria Rilke to Rodin which you translated from the original French—what is the significance of these letters, for you, in the story and in the play? Also, do you often work with found text in your plays/theater pieces?

NKP: Using found texts is my attempt to bridge playwriting with my background in physical and image based theatre, where we draw from texts that aren’t purely theatrical (such as poems and novels).  What’s exciting about non-theatrical texts is you can fragment them, put them in a different context and mess with their tone. In the effort of finding their place on the stage, there’s a rich potential for physical and vocal exploration.

Rilke’s letters to Rodin were an exciting discovery for me because they were written in a language that he wasn’t fluent in, and at the threshold of his career as a poet. What’s striking about them – other than his self-defeating humor – is how closely Rilke’s awe for Rodin’s genius borders on the erotic. So I planted the letters in Camille’s world to find out how she would be affected by this indirect triangular relationship. The chorus of Dead Sculptures emerged out of that.

Question 3. The set itself for this anti-reading workshop presentation is an installation piece, created specifically for this performance by visual artist and anthropologist Minette Lee Mangahas. What has been your experience working with installations and visuals/visual artists in the past, and how has this particular relationship (with this installation) developed and influenced the play?

NKP: This is actually my first time working with an installation artist, and I’m really excited! But I guess the notion of working with visual artists feels natural to me because two of my theatre mentors were visual artists before they did theatre. I actually see this play as the foundation for an installation piece with performance. At the moment, I’m really excited about scenography and the interplay between text, movement and visuals. I see this workshop as a stepping-stone towards finding that kind of integration in my work.

Question 4. What is an “anti-reading, workshop presentation,” at least as defined in the context of this weekend of performances of Time Suites: Camille et Rodin?

NKP: I like the sound of an anti-reading because it reminds me of the word anti-chambre [antechamber]. To me, this anti-reading is an entryway into the world of a play. It’s my alternative to a reading: a way of finding out, from a three-dimensional point of view, and from my dialogue with fellow artists and the audience’s presence, where my play needs to go from here.

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