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NYC, 2 December 2005.
Nick Kaye: What was your role in the process of SUPER VISION’s evolution?
Rizwan Mirza: Marianne Weems had an idea about a travelling character - and the airports. I had come up with the idea of playing a South Asian or Indian character, but one who had never been really to India. A character that didn’t identify with being Indian, culturally, that was, in fact, Ugandan, being born and raised in Uganda. My role before this, in Alladeen, was an Indian from Bangalore, India, so I wanted to stretch it a little bit. The traveller is an individual crossing these international borders and national American borders – who is suspect. Partly because of the colour of his skin, or, in this particular case, his name is similar to a person who had been convicted of something or suspected of something - of some kind of terrorist activity, more than likely. I wanted the character to be sympathetic, but to seem a little bit shady, a little bit dodgy, at times. So the audience would say, well, wait a second; I am looking at these things that seem to be mapping out a particular pattern of strange activity. Then to bring them back to; ‘oh no, no, he’s fine’. I think that is a theme that goes through The Builders Association’s shows - not to take sides. Hopefully it doesn’t - it steps back from it.
Nick Kaye: There is also a theme of dislocation from place -
Rizwan Mirza: We often talked about being a global soul - and how we are all sort of ventriloquists now. How we take upon accents in slight ways when we don’t even realize. For example, if I am speaking in English to an Indian aunt in India I’ll immediately have an Indian accent, because not only will she understand it better, but she actually feels more comfortable when I am speaking that way. When I go into the way I am speaking now, it’s almost that she becomes disconnected. I am no longer a sort of member of that family. I grew up in a particular area of New York and when I run into that crowd I speak that way. So that ventriloquism is happening and I think it is a big part of The Builders’ shows - projecting different things and speaking through different mediums - speaking through the technology, speaking through the lighting, speaking through the whole idea of the show, speaking through the stylization of the acting.
Nick Kaye: When you were developing the character, were you thinking of him as separate from the technology, or as constituted in the technology around you and through which you perform?
Rizwan Mirza: It is an interesting question. I think that in The Builders’ shows it’s like being in a theatre piece and film at the same time. I studied conventional theatre, where there was the whole idea of theatre voice and theatre presence. In The Builders at times you have to really rein it in even if you are playing in front of a house of a thousand, because you are on camera a lot of the time. The wonderful thing for me as an actor, and the thing that is very fulfilling, is that the slightest nuance of any eye movement or facial twitch reads in the theatre. That is incredibly freeing. When you see a Builders’ show there is a muted resonance to them. Almost like a computer screen, with different boxes popping up, and a sound here and there. You feel part of it. I think you get the sense, certainly, of technology playing a part, but it never overshadows the humanity of the performers. I think Marianne Weems is very careful with that. Even in scenes when there is a certain - hollowness - like in the family scenes – David Pence and Kyle DeCamp are doing a certain stylized type of acting, which is underlining the whole idea of a family that is living through what they buy. They are hollow, but the acting must be approached in that way - sort of acting within the character and without. I think there is a certain haunting loneliness about the quality of The Builders’ shows. Even when they are funny. I think in their funniest moments there is a lonely quality.
Nick Kaye: Do you think that is somehow produced in the way the performances are filtered through the technology?
Rizwan Mirza: I think that all of us in the company – we are all tech savvy - but we do realize that there are ways in which it does distance you from things. I guess in that way it is a comment. The closest thing I can say is that this technology was supposed to bring things closer together - and it has in terms of sharing information. But what is the meaning behind this? I think this is a subconscious feeling that people leave the shows with.
Nick Kaye: There is a reflection of that process in Moe Angelos and Tanya Selvaratnam’s performance of the relationship between the Grandmother and Jen, the Granddaughter. Moe and Tanya both talked about rehearsing this relationship in the early stages without mediation. Then, in the performance, with the technology their activities became almost private, even as they talk to each other. Their backs are to the audience. They are focused on placing themselves within a frame, in playing to camera, in order to see and be seen. They are looking at themselves all the time. I wondered how your place amidst this technology informed the way you perform and interact with others.
Rizwan Mirza: It is interesting, because I am never really looking at Joe Silovsky, who plays the border agent. I am not even looking directly at his projection because I’m standing behind the textaling screen, so it’s faded. So I am looking at a general idea of his face. I can’t see every expression he has - and I have learnt to just act with that. It helped me in this particular situation because the traveller is confronting someone who doesn’t really see him for who he is. I am hearing the voice of the border agent come at me and I am trying to respond like it is some kind of god-like voice booming at me that I have to answer to. So that disconnect has helped. Where I feel like I am trying to connect sometimes – through the screen, to him, as a character, to the person that is his character - I think that helped. The relationship between the traveller, who is being asked so many questions, and this TSA agent - there is a tension there - a disconnect in the relationship itself. So it really worked out.
Nick Kaye: James Gibbs suggested, in his dialogue with Marianne Weems at the Brooklyn Academy of Music– and I am paraphrasing him - ‘that the show uses the tools that it critiques’. That comes across very strongly in what you’re saying - that the performance is articulated through the processes it addresses.
Rizwan Mirza: That is true. We can’t remove ourselves from it. It has become so necessary for us to even express ourselves. It is interesting, though, that when we were first work shopping the show the technology wasn’t there. I think that is testimony to the fact that these stories are strong on their own – that the concept is already strong on its own. It does not rely on the smoking mirrors or the glitter of the technology to make this shine. The same thing happened in ALLADEEN. We started with desks and hand held microphones. There were no projections. In SUPER VISION, I think my particular story is very clear. It is layered, but you know what is going on. It is concise - people can relate to it very quickly. They know they have seen this before. They have points of references from past two years - with what is happening not just in America, but all over the world. We are not far from what we portray in this show.
Nick Kaye: In ALLADEEN you were working across two spaces simultaneously, in the sense that your live performance in the lower part of the space was then mediated into another scene.
Rizwan Mirza: Yes, mixed with the old Aladdin film-footage.
Nick Kaye: Could you see what you were doing?
Rizwan Mirza: I couldn’t! After the rehearsal process I saw a DVD of the first showing – we had a private showing and then I was able to adjust. I was pleasantly surprised. It really underlines or subverts the text in a great way.
Nick Kaye: There is a tremendously strong visual play around the traveller, through front and rear projection, as his data accumulates.
Rixwan Mirza: It’s about him being revealed and becoming more a part of the system. At the end he is enveloped with data. He has revealed everything. He is happy to part of the system, to buy into the consumer American dream. He has his platinum flying card. They know he took a defensive driving course. He has got credit lines that have been extended everywhere. He is really part of the system and he is quite happy about it. So it makes you definitely notice that there is a disconnect somewhere.
Nick Kaye: One of the effects of this is to raise questions about how the traveller is constituted as an individual between these different layers of data. In these various projections, which at one point incorporate a multiplication of your performance through projection, there is a spectacular visual play over where you are – between your real body, your projected body and the data body. You were talking earlier about acting and theatrical presence – I was wondering how being in all that visual play, how that affects your sense of a theatrical presence within this performance?
Rizwan Mirza: You know it is very interesting, because sometimes that theatrical presence is a very intangible quality. You say to yourself; OK, I am on this screen, I am being projected 20ft high and we adjust to different sizes of audience and auditorium. I think to myself, well, you have actually to resonate more somehow. What do you do? There are internal switches if you are a performer. Something does happen. It’s the timbre of your voice, it’s intonation, but then again it is completely intangible.
Nick Kaye: Are you focused on the projection?
Rizwan Mirza: I am really thinking about the emotional content of what I am saying. And what energy level I am putting behind that emotional content. Without making anything seem hysterical – hysterically serious or hysterically funny. That’s where – for lack of a better word – that magical thing happens with live performance – that’s what it is. It’s that one thing that one night someone might say was a little off. You don’t have that thing that you had the other night. You are saying the same lines; you are almost delivering them the same way. So that’s the age-old thing, isn’t it, about it was ‘on’ tonight or it wasn’t ‘on’ tonight. It has nothing to do with whether you have missed your mark or not. You can miss your mark five times in a show and still have your best show, because you were just so dynamic.
Nick Kaye: One of the things that comes across very strongly from the performance is a kind of musical structure - and I mean to include Dan Dobson’s work in that - but also the way the various elements of the performance as a whole relate to each other musically. In SUPER VISION , the way in which these stories are told, their tone and rhythm, is certainly as important, if not more important, as the stories themselves.
Rizwan Mirza: Yes. The story is scored by everything that is happening on stage. When I say the story is scored, I am talking about the thing you kind of don’t see or is nothing to do with the actors – that is, everything to do with what surrounds the idea, is being scored. That’s how I would put it.
Nick Kaye: Norman Frisch suggests that, whenever Marianne Weems has the opportunity, she chooses to have the technology played live rather than using a series of pre-recorded tracks in which cues are embedded. This also seems to relate to this idea of the performance being fundamentally musical.
Rizwan Mirza: I have never felt stilted by the technology. I have actually had a lot of fun with it and we are very careful to make a flow happen in terms of exchanging dialogue. And we are working on it all the time. In Alladeen a year and a half in we were still working on those things. So that also has to do with how you play – how you put the music in and have the video guys – hit the cues live.