Bwogger Sydney Contreras went to CU School of the Arts’ podcast launch this Friday evening. The podcast and festival schedule are both available for free online.

The act of dreaming takes on new tones of defiance, hope, and resilience in Mexican playwright Camila Villegas’ Rarárumi Dreams, the first installment of the new International Play Reading Festival launched by Columbia’s School of the Arts. Titled Jacinto y Nicolasa in Spanish, the play was written in Spanish by Villegas, translated to English by Daniel Jáquez, and directed by Opalanietet.

Centered on the voices of the titular characters, Rarárumi Dreams is an exploration of both the Rarárumi community, the indigenous people of the Mexican state of Chihuahua, and the respective plights of Jacinto and Nicolasa as individuals. The play opens with Jacinto and Nicolasa in the local police station seeking justice and redemption for crimes that are a result of the violent relationship between the Rarárumi community and the nearby drug cartels. 

As the play progresses, Jacinto and Nicolasa must negotiate the clashing of indigenous ways of life and the broken criminal justice system as they struggle to hang on to tradition. The Rarárumi beliefs in the power of dreaming figure into the play prominently as the characters slide seamlessly between the realms of dreams and reality.

Unique to this performance is the way that the act of translation makes this brilliant theatrical work as collaborative as it is heartbreaking. Villegas and Jáquez bring to the table their strong connections to Chihuahua, Mexico, the geographical area of interest in the play, and Opalanietet channels his experiences with maintaining his connection and allegiance to his own indigenous background as a member of the Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape tribal nation in his directorial role. 

The rich emotional subtext of translation and the dramatic form that these three authorities add to Rarárumi Dreams illustrates the purpose of the International Play Reading Festival, which is as much an exploration of translation as it is of diversifying theatre. The goal of the festival, ultimately, is to refresh Western-centric theatre with new voices and new narratives from those who are overlooked in Western theatre. In doing so, the School of the Arts attempts to bring these voices to the fore of modern theatre, focusing on the art of translation and exclusively featuring works from international playwrights. As the world of theatre struggles to adapt to an online world, the Festival also seeks to connect audiences to both playwrights and translators.

But as noble as these intentions are, the element of community that the Festival tried so hard to foster in this Listening Party was seemingly lost in the translation to the digital world. There were scant opportunities to actually interact with either fellow audience members or the playwrights (as promised) which, in general, served as a painful reminder of the absence of community rather than an approximate recreation. As an avid user of Zoom for the purposes of art and community, I was disappointed in the Festival’s difficulties with using the online platform to enhance the listening experience, and, at some points, wished that I had simply waited to listen to the podcast on my own to better appreciate the play. 

Though I truly and thoroughly enjoyed Rarárumi Dreams and would definitely recommend the podcast, the event itself detracted from the beauty of the play with these technical shortcomings. Notably, the lack of captions made the play difficult to follow during the event itself, especially due to voice actors doubling minor parts, thus muddling a play meant to be dreamlike and sorrowful, not bewilderingly obfuscated.

Technicalities aside, this was the first episode of the series, and I have hope that the coming installments will make better use of the online platform. Although it may be a while until we can see this play on the stage as intended, the International Play Reading Festival series certainly brings theatre-goers an accessible, virtual experience. Even if the Podcast Listening parties may be a pass for this viewer, I will certainly be listening to the coming episodes (on my own) and would still recommend the Festival’s culminating Playwright Panel Discussion, slated to take place on Sunday, October 25th as an opportunity to (hopefully) delve more into the translation process and communicate with these talented playwrights, translators, and directors.

Go see next week’s installment if: you’re interested in diverse narratives, playwrights, and actors in modern theatre; you want a chance to ask directors and translators questions; you’re a fan of Thai playwright Nophand; you’re a Comparative Literature or Linguistics fiend looking for a fix.

Skip it if: you have a difficult time following long podcasts without captions or the ability to pause or rewind.

Desert sunset via Pixabay