BWW Interview: Sanaz Ghajar and DANGER SIGNALS at New Ohio Theatre
The New Ohio theatre and IRT Theater's Archive Residency announce the world premiere's of Built for Collapse's Danger Signals with text by Nina Segal, directed by Sanaz Ghajar, and composed by Jen Goma. The show will be performed through May 19.
The Archive Residency is a vital incubator for New York City's most electrifying independent theater companies. This two-year residency offers companies an artistic home for the development and presentation of a new work. Each residency culminates with a world premiere production. Now in its fifth year, the Archive Residency is a collaboration between New Ohio Theatre and IRT Theater.
Broadwayworld.com had the pleasure of interviewing Sana Ghajar about her career, Built for Collapse and Danger Signals.
Ghajar is an Iranian-American director, writer, and Artistic Director of award-winning theatre company Built for Collapse. Coming up, she is directing Red Wednesday at Mabou Mines Theater. Before that, she directed her company's Nuclear Love Affair, which played to sold out houses in NYC, Prague, Rome, and Krakow. She has developed work with New York Theatre Workshop, Clubbed Thumb, Civilians, Drama League, BRIC Arts | Media, 3LD, Ars Nova, Red House Center for Culture & Debate in Bulgaria, Prague Film & Theater Center, and others. Alumni of Drama League Directors Project, NYTW 2050 Fellowship, Clubbed Thumb Fellowship. NYTW Usual Suspect.
Tell us a little about your earliest interest in the performing arts.
When I was young I wrote a lot of stories and acted them out or used stuffed animals to stage them. I grew up without siblings and my parents got divorced when I was six, so I definitely used storytelling as a way to imagine a world larger and more fantastical than my own.
Have you had any particular mentors or people who have inspired your career?
Robert Rauschenberg is a central influence in my artistic practice. He constantly pushed against the given boundaries of the artworld. While he was primarily a sculptor and painter, he also engaged with photography, printmaking and performance. His refusal to be defined as well as the collaborative and multidisciplinary nature of his work is inspiring to me. My company's productions manifest much like a Rauschenberg art piece. Spoken text including phrases and passages from historical transcripts, interviews, and other primary sources, run alongside alongside original writing - and is in conversation with media, choreography and music.
Rachel Chavkin (who I assisted on Hadestown at NYTW) and Ruben Polendo (my former professor, Chair of the Department of Drama at Tisch School of the Arts) were also formative to my career and continue to inspire me. I've learned so much from them as artists, teachers, and colleagues.
How has your background influenced your artistry?
As an Iranian-American, I have come to understand that my work is inherently political, and big political concepts inevitably find their way into my work. Growing up living on two very different sides of the world, I was exposed to a multiplicity of points of view, which speaks to the prismatic nature of my work. This takes me back to Rauschenberg's art, which is dense in narrative without ever quite adding up to a simple story you can tell in a few words.
We'd love to know more about the unique collaboration that has created Danger Signals.
Nina Segal and I were introduced to each other through Rachel Chavkin back in 2015. We got lunch and I told her that we were working on a show about lobotomies, about the neurologist who popularized lobotomies, about the institutionalization of the mind. I admitted that, having recently recovered from a traumatic brain injury, I was no longer sure how to approach the project. I told her the story of my brain injury, and how that had shifted my perspective. I told her I didn't know how to make the show anymore, but that it was something between a play and a devised piece of theater. Nina was excited about this idea, as she had never developed a script in collaboration with a devising company before. This would be her first foray into integrating music and movement as necessary departures from text.
We decided to workshop some ideas with a group of actors, and we kept coming back to the car accident, to the brain, to women and the ways in which their narratives are left unwritten while the historical male remains central. It's been three years since we began our collaboration and I am so thrilled by what we have made together, especially the ways in which we have centered the story around women and a woman's right to hold power.
What would you like metro area audiences to know about the show?
This is a story about the brain, about ambition, about women, men, and the struggle to make an impact. It is also about those moments in a person's life when everything changes all at once. Moment of being spliced, split in two. There is who you once were and who you are now, and you'll never be able to get back to the before. Often these moments arise out of trauma and can be moments of transcendence, and this core thing is something everyone can connect to.
For the future?
I'm working on a new show that's probably going to be a film called Virtuous People, a post-punk science-fantasy that imagines the future effects of global climate change and where we might find ourselves in a post-capitalist America. In its final form, the project will be a fully-scored, time-based dramatic performance with multiple objects and conditions.
Follow Built for Collapse on social media @built4collapse and visit http://built4collapse.org/.
Performances of Danger Signals are Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, and Sundays at 7pm (no show on Sunday, May 6). Shows take place at New Ohio Theatre, located at 154 Christopher Street between Greenwich and Washington Streets in New York City. Tickets for Danger Signals are $15 (4/27-5/1), $20 (5/3-5/8) and $25 (5/10-5/19). Purchase at http://NewohioTheatre.org or by calling 212-352-3101.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Sanaz Ghajar