A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of attending a scenic reading of excerpts from Benjamin Benne’s new play, “Fantasma”, at the Rubenstein Arts Center Gallery. Upon entering, the hall looked like a rehearsal space. The right wall was covered with multi-colored index cards that detailed the characters, plot points, setting and other elements of “Fantasma”. A rough semicircle of folding chairs lined the perimeter of the room. The “stage” consisted of a rectangular table and a projector. Some of the chairs encroached on the stage, blurring the line between audience and performer – for the reading, I was actually sitting behind two of the actors. The gallery door – one of Ruby’s iconic massive barn doors – stayed open for an entire hour of reading, adding to the inviting atmosphere that became a major theme throughout the event.
Benjamin Benne is the most recent guest artist in the Department of Theater Studies. From August 30 to September 10, he and his collaborator, Catherine Rodriguez, split their time between working on “Fantasma” and working with the students of Duke. Although Benne is the official artist in residence, it is obvious that he and Rodriguez are forming a forfeit.
“I have known and done kiki with [Benne] for years now, ”Rodriguez wrote in an email. “I will say ‘absolutely yes’ to anything Ben invites me to co-conspire.” It’s a dream to be near one of my dearest collaborators and friends, with access to space and time to talk, think, laugh, do.
Dumpster echoed his sentiment. When asked what drew him to Duke’s guest artist program, he cited a rare opportunity to engage in “teaching and mentoring … Plus, any luck I have. to work with Cat Rodriguez means I’ll say, “Yes,” he wrote in an email.
Benne and Rodriguez both hold various roles in the performing arts. In addition to being a playwright, Benne describes himself as a theater artist and a puppeteer.
“To me ‘theater artist’ means that I think about the play holistically when I write it – I don’t write a piece of literature, I think of creating a performance,” Benne wrote. objects (which is where my “puppeteer” hat appears) and the atmosphere and space of performance and the way bodies move and interact (with space, objects and with each other ). “
Rodriguez sees his myriad of artist “wigs” as vehicles to challenge others to “develop their own humanity”.
“My work as an advocate and organizer, mainly alongside undocumented people and asylum seekers, has provided the best learning and the best basis for this,” Rodriguez wrote. “Learning How? ‘Or’ What showing off applies to all the work I do and in all the relationships I have, artistic and beyond.
Rodriguez describes herself as “a storyteller, a performance maker and a cultural shaker,” terms that “reflect the environment I work in and describe the way I move,” she wrote.
“I like to play with my words, to serve the lqqks and also the present moment, while animating rigor and fun and heart.
The artistic styles of Benne and Rodriguez are evident in “Fantasma”. A work in progress, “Fantasma” was commissioned by the South Coast Repertory Theater in Costa Mesa, California. The work was inspired when, during a nine-month visit to his family, Benne first tried to document a family recipe for the Guatemalan dish. chuchitos.
“I’m interested in writing a story that archives my family’s experiences of living in Guatemala and emigrating to the United States for quite some time now,” Benne wrote. This experience made me think a lot about the legacy and the things we inherit. family — especially culturally — and what are the things that got lost along the way? Suddenly I realized that this was the setting for the play I wanted to write.
Benne’s residency centered around the “Fantasma” studio with students from Duke involved in the creation of the now half-finished piece.
Benne described the collaboration with the students as “an absolute joy! Mainly because this residency was not only intended to share my process of developing a new piece with the students, it was also designed to allow me to engage in their work.
In addition to being a presentation of Benne, Rodriguez and their collaborating students, this scenic reading was a lesson in art as well as engagement. Both via email and in person while reading, Rodriguez used the phrase “hungry to learn”; I interpret this phrase to include learning not only in an academic sense, but in an interpersonal sense – in this case, using both a work of art and the process of making that art as avenues of learning.
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Reading “Fantasma” was a unique opportunity to be physically in a space with artists and to be invited to their mental space as well. Between the snippets, Benne shared photos that inspired the piece, namely a list of ingredients for the above. chuchitos-, and he and Rodriguez have talked about their writing process so far. After the reading, they encouraged the audience to ask questions about the play and discuss anything they found intriguing.
Reading was the opposite of how art is traditionally experienced, with defined boundaries between artist and audience and little room for dialogue between the two. It reminded us that we all have things to learn from each other and that art should be, as Benne so aptly put it, “playful”.