The Ridiculous Darkness Rehearsal Blog Week 1—From assistant director, Haylin Cai
I was amused and puzzled when I first read The Ridiculous Darkness. The script juxtaposes the accounts of a Somali pirate’s trial in Germany, and a German sergeant’s mission in the Hindu Kush it fascinated me. I immediately applied for the assistant director position. When the news came that I had been selected as the Assistant Director for the production I was very excited—I knew it would be a wonderful journey like no other!
The script is originally a German radio play written by Wolfram Lotz. The initial inspiration comes from the Hamburg trial of Somali pirates in 2012. It’s also a reply to Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now; both of them highly regarded works of art, in spite of their racist narratives on colonization. Navigating through such a challenging script, our director Anthony has found a theme that summons up the many layers hidden in the script – he decided to interpret it as a process of western imagination colonizing other cultures.
For a long time, western countries have prided themselves on their ‘enlightening’ of the dark world out there. This is due to the domineering presence of white, masculine ‘heroes’ in western narratives. The Ridiculous Darkness reflects on the fact that it is our imaginations, not the foreign world itself, that creates the threatening darkness.
To defy this imbalance, and to further emphasize the theme of the play, all the characters will be played by a cast of four black femme performers. In the first week of the rehearsal, we talked a lot about what is ‘whiteness’ and ‘masculinity’. I am surprised by the life experience and insight that these actors can bring to the discussion. To play the complete opposite of themselves, all of the actors have to jump out of their comfort zones. But Anthony has made the rehearsal fun and free of stress. I remember in one of the improvisations exploring masculine physicality, Anthony asked everyone to play a ‘super macho’. Everyone watching was laughing – we were so amused by the conflicts and subtexts that gradually emerged during the improvisation.
The actors got on their feet on the second day of rehearsals, and we had roughly gone through all the scenes by the end of the week. This gives everyone a sense of the arch of the story and leaves us enough time to develop details. It’s been a playful process. Interesting ideas pop out every now and then, and I can already see actors transforming themselves and getting into different characters.
As an assistant director, I did extensive research on the Hamburg piracy trial and Somalia to share with the cast. The research itself changed my impression of Somali pirates, whom I previously just believed to be ‘the brutal others’. Taking up piracy has become quite understandable for me – the sea of Somalia is routinely exploited by foreign ships, and the aftermath of colonization has left the country in perpetual war and strife. Despite its satirical tone, the script is actually very real in many details.
Everyone, including me, is encouraged to offer and try out ideas, however crazy. Anthony works very close with the dramaturg Nina as well. She has a very clear understanding of the script and is always there to offer help and to facilitate the vision. The stage and sound design are wild and highly imaginative. However, I can’t reveal too many details now. We are on our way to creating a fantastic show!
The Ridiculous Darkness runs from 27 February until 23 March 2019.