Waterloo – A group of artists in Waterloo are trying to create a theatre experience and are looking for help. Samuel Card, a former UNI theatre student and longtime actor with Waterloo Community Playhouse and Blackhawk Children’s Theatre, is directing God’s Ear, an experimental theatre piece written by Jenny Schwartz. It’s a dramatic piece that reflects the psychological loss of a child. An ensemble of artists explore mental breakdowns, trauma, and grief. They have started a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for the show. We talked with Samuel Card to learn more about the project.
First of all, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your experiences in the theatre?
I have a pretty extensive theater background beginning when I was but 5 years old by taking classes at the Black Hawk Children’s Theatre. I’ve been lucky enough to practice my craft in and out of this community for nearly 20 years. I’ve been involved in over 40 productions with WCP/BHCT both onstage and backstage, not to mention helping with scenic construction and other volunteer work for their company whenever I could. I studied at the University of Northern Iowa where I took and finished all my courses for a degree in Drama and Theatre for Youth. For personal reasons I took some time off and thus have a few general education courses to complete still. I taught classes and camps at the Rose Theatre in Omaha NE for a summer, I also spent a summer teaching and acting at the Orpehum Theatre in Marshalltown before it closed down.
However, to truly understand the vision behind this project, you must first understand that my outlook on art and creativity is different than some. I believe that creativity is a right we all posses, one that is not limited to talent, skill, professional credits, experience, heresay or theresay. Creativity is a spiritual force that flows through all matters of life. It is an endless energy that works with us, through us, for us. This is something I have come to see as truth through my experience along The Artist’s Way, written by the remarkable Julia Cameron.
It is in this spirit that I first committed myself to directing God’s Ear. I found it to be a creative calling, a destiny if you will. A “Yes And” opportunity. I pondered and questioned the reality of directing this show for quite some time, and eventually I simply had to say “Yes.” Once I made the decision, the doors began opening rapidly. WCP has been so gracious as to offer a performance space for us purely because they believe in me and my work. I have a fiercely dedicated team of artists that give me strength when I doubt this project and they’re helping me keep our dream alive.
You write passionately about harnessing the community’s energy to create theatre on your kickstarter site. Can you talk a little bit about how you’ve experienced that in the past with other projects? And what sort of response you’ve gotten to the God’s Ear project?
For two years I suffered a period of depression, in this time I struggled to maintain passion for my art and craft. This project is a calling from some higher power that says “HEY! Create. Create because it gives you pleasure. Create because it heals. Create because it inspires those around you. Just create. And never stop creating.” I try my hardest to spread that energy with my ensemble, my backers, and all who believe in standing back up when you’ve been beat down; just create. Believe in yourself. We can do anything we set our hearts to. And I sincerely hope that this project, our kickstarter campaign, and our vision will inspire others to challenge their definition of art and creativity, and that it urges them to write that play, sign up for that art class, take more photos, write poetry, dance, walk, sing, jump, whatever inspires them and gives them joy. Life is meant to be lived.
In my young life I’ve had the grateful pleasure to work on some incredibly beautiful and heartwarming productions. At UNI I worked on a devised piece called Playful Inventions that was designed and crafted specifically to engage youth on the autism spectrum with pretend play and creative development. The results were life changing. I’ve worked on multiple productions at Northstar Inc. that provided performance opportunities for adults affected by various ability challenges. Performed only twice at the Gallagher Bluedorn, I’ve never experienced acting “in the moment” quite like that. Those are just two of many projects I’ve been lucky enough to work on. In short, I’ve grown up and lived as an adult knowing nothing but theatre magic. Creativity is a life-source, a spiritual energy, that I believe flows through everyone. This community is tenacious for their art and they’ve always supported me; they’ve raised me and watched me grow up. Now it’s time I humbly give myself back to them.
The kickstarter page itself has been struggling thus far. However, I’ve received a plethora of messages and calls of people who support the project and want to help us out. There’s a lot of excitement to see the product, just not as much financial aid as we hoped for at this point. Thankfully, we’ve outsourced marketing responsibilities to an international company that specializes in crowdfunding like this, and expect to see a massive growth in the pledging support.
God’s Ear is about the loss of a child and how the parents deal with that. Why is that topic of interest to you?
As someone who’s experienced the ups and downs of mental illnesses I’m drawn to the periods of life where things get mucky. This play brings about the physical and mental representations of grief, of trauma, depression, anxiety, PTSD, and it does so by highlighting the inability to process our basic human right of language and communication. How often do we really listen to one another? How often do we respond to a loved one before we’ve taken in what they’ve actually said? Our lives are rapid, incoherent, and often off-based. The text brings light to that. You know, what do we do when we lose the ability to communicate functionally with those we care about? How does that affect our lives, relationships, and mental processing? We’re discovering answers to those questions as we move along.
You described the play as “non-linear,” with a “fragmented plot” that’s “poetic, rhythmic, and nonsensical.” Can you expand on that?
The script itself has always been one that stands out to me from the moment I first read it about five years ago. It’s one of the only plays that I’ve read that highlights the playwright’s ‘voice.’ The entire process of reading her text, hearing it out loud, and as we begin the rehearsal process we have a sense of the playwright’s presence. God’s Ear is written by Jenny Schwartz. It’s non-linear, as to say it isn’t a plot-based show. It’s about the accumulation of language, the fragmented dialogue, and the nonsensical compilation of thoughts and memories. Focusing mainly on the grieving process of losing a child, the play explores how a parent might psychologically react to that sort of trauma. I’m a writer myself and I simply admire Jenny’s writing style, it’s poetic and rhythmic and always leaves me in awe of her beautiful voice. I think audiences will have the same reaction. It isn’t often we see a play and then leave the theatre saying “Wow! That was written really well. I liked the playwright!” We talk about acting, direction, design, etc… but the playwright is often left unacknowledged. She plays a major role in our production, whether she knows it or not.
I wish you could see just a small portion of the text. As a result of this terribly tragedy, the husband and wife lose their primary tool of communication. They speak in commonly used phrases, they talk in cliches, the dialogue is repetitive and accumulative. Many times it’s uncertain whether the characters are on the phone, in the car, at a bar, or speaking to eachother in bed. This play isn’t about A happens then B happens then C happens. It’s about processing the process of grief and trauma and what that might look and sound like. As an audience member, you have the luxury of simply sitting back and listening to the language and all your questions slowly get answered. The best way I can describe the feeling after finishing this play is suffocating, because once it stops it never quits, and it hits you hard in the gut.
Why does a rather nontraditional theatre piece appeal to you?
Well how can it not? How many times have we seen Joseph, Guys and Dolls, Oklahoma!? Yes, the classics are great and deserve to be produced but we’ve seen them all before! This play is different and it’s raw and it’s evocative. I love it because it pushes the envelope of one’s definition of what makes a play a play, what makes art, art, what makes theatre, theatre. As a director, it presents a visceral opportunity to work outside the box. It is a rather nontraditional piece and therefore requires a rather nontraditional approach. I tell my ensemble every day “Process is Progress.” What that means is that we are taking each day as it comes, and we always begin here. They’ve committed themselves to an intimidating rehearsal process because we don’t know what it looks like, sounds like, or feels like yet. We get to discover that along the way. Process over product, it’s that simple. We didn’t sign up for opening night, we signed up for today. They graciously trust me to lead them, coach them, and guide them to the heart of this piece which will gently be discovered in time. Yes, that presents challenges and insecurities about how “good” the work will be. I don’t give a damn how it looks, if I’m being blunt. I give a damn about the process it takes to get there. I hope that along the way we each heal, learn, discover, and recover our creative and artistic selves as we each deserve to do.
Check out the Kickstarter page.