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Interview with Nicole Dreiske

BROADCAST: Oct. 12, 1982 | DURATION: 00:20:34


Discussing the latest theatre project "Macundo" inspired by "One Hundred Years of Solitude" by Marquez with Nicole Dreiske.


Tap within the transcript to jump to that part of the audio.


Studs Terkel Nicole Dreiske is a producer of what theater, films, highly imaginative and is connected with Facets Multimedia and Nicole has, how can I put, a super abundance of energy and boldness has-- she and a group of her colleagues a couple of years ago visited the-- worked for 40 days and 40 nights in the Tunisian desert and perhaps you could just recount that in a moment but lately she's been to Colombia and there's a story goes along with it. In Colombia, she was--you working on a film?

Nicole Dreiske A theater production.

Studs Terkel A theater prod-- a theater production, not a film. A theater production inspired by the classic Gabriel García Márquez "A Hundred Years of Solitude. Inspired by it and that's part of the tale. So, Nicole, about two years ago, you were a guest on this program and you'd been-- and five weeks before that you had been where?

Nicole Dreiske To the southern tip of Tunisia working in the sandy erg region of the desert on a version, a very highly updated version, of Shakespeare's King Lear which turned into a trilogy of plays.

Studs Terkel Now, who were the people with you? Who was your company?

Nicole Dreiske The actors of Facets Performance Ensemble and, if you'll recall, since they are a very highly trained group of professional actors who received training in seven different techniques before going into these very arduous locations.

Studs Terkel How many were there

Nicole Dreiske with There were five

Studs Terkel Now, before we hear your voice of two years ago and, something you learn there, you say, why did you choose the Tunisian desert to do a variation on Lear?

Nicole Dreiske Because that was the only metaphor that was overwhelming enough to really throw Lear's madness and the dangers to his people into relief as it's-- as it's recounted in the story of King Lear. A rainstorm in Great Britain just isn't that awesome. And if you look at that as the major metaphor against which Lear's madness is-

Studs Terkel You say, a theater production, where it was finally performed?

Nicole Dreiske It was performed all over the States. It was performed in Europe. We did parts of it in in Colombia. We were performing there as well as developing our work.

Studs Terkel Using using the Tunisian desert as the setting?

Nicole Dreiske As the stimulus for a rewriting of recreating of the Lear story and, you see, this is what was so phenomenal, not that we were performing it there because we weren't, we were developing a whole new play about the struggle between this man and his daughters and the questions of power and responsibility within the tribal unit.

Studs Terkel And you chose the Tunisian desert because what, of certain tribes who were there?

Nicole Dreiske Because of the tribes that were there and also because it culturally doesn't have any stereotypes imprinted on it. You know, if we were working in the desert around in Egypt or if we were working even in our own Apache stereotype deserts in the States you get a lot of cultural imprints from those things. It was a very clear desert for us. We were able to go in and work and gauge the environment.

Studs Terkel Who were the people there? What was their reaction as you were developing your version of Lear?

Nicole Dreiske It was an extremely difficult process. We had to get up at 4:00 in the morning, to avoid the heat of the day. We could only rehearse three hours out of the day before it became unbearable. But an incredibly rich verbal and story text came out of that process because we were generating a text every day, that was our goal, to generate the text, generate the stories, and this trilogy that we came up with is composed of three plays. One is called 'The Ancestors' which tells the story of Lear's forefathers, then the central play 'The Book of Lear', then the final play which deals with the people of the tribe which is called 'The Path of Ashes' and which were touring all over the east coast.

Studs Terkel Where did you-- Did some of the people of-- are they nomadic people?

Nicole Dreiske Yes. In our play they are, as well.

Studs Terkel Did they take part in it too?

Nicole Dreiske We- You can't avoid that because in the true sense of Brecht and the and the streetcorner demonstration, they would wander through our rehearsals with their camels and their tents. They would-- we would have people coming up to us right into the rehearsals and engaging us, speaking to

Studs Terkel Did you tell them what you were doing? Did they know what you were doing?

Nicole Dreiske It was usually too late because they were in the dialogue. They were in the story at that point; we didn't need to tell them they were already a part of it. And after the rehearsal, after that developmental phase then, if they were still there, we would talk about it but they would come in-- you see our language is very physical so they would communicate-- you know, the one of the most beautiful things that ever happened was a group of people who had sat for an hour watching us and the rehearsal ended and a man came up to us and, in French, because that's the other language there, he said "Why do we understand the language that you're using?" Because when we were rehearsing we were using what we called a tribal language. It was an invented language, a made-up language composed of the of the sounds of the desert and our bodies and he said, "Why do we understand the language that you're using?"

Studs Terkel So, they understood then?

Nicole Dreiske They understood,

Studs Terkel Basically.

Nicole Dreiske certainly, the stories.

Studs Terkel You were there how long now?

Nicole Dreiske Exactly 40 days and

Studs Terkel 40 days and 40 nights. So you were in the ark with Noah. I ima-- suppose we hear, this is a couple of years ago when Nicole Dreiske was guest on this program shortly after her return from the Tunisian desert, five weeks after. Let's hear your voice then and then we'll continue with the adventure in Colombia.

Nicole Dreiske You cannot imagine that literally five weeks ago, five of us were sitting on dirty stone floor with one spoon between five people eating from a single pot and we were comple-- I mean, we were content. It's not, you know, the question is not that you go in and project your American values on these people but that you appreciate the fact that they are living their lives as their ancestor have lived it for many years, without plumbing; 90 percent of them without electricity and I'm talking about in the desert, in the northern part of Tunisia there's-- there are many conveniences but because their lives are so hard they have a tremendous appreciation for things like color, you know, bright colors and and movement or sound which is somehow creative. And, for example, every time people found out that we were actors they would always want us to sing and dance and so we would go from house to house just singing and dancing. This wasn't part of our rehearsal this was just being with the people and, I mean, what-- you know, somebody asked me once, "Well, what did you sing?" Anything. They loved it all.

Studs Terkel Like what? What? What?

Nicole Dreiske Anything, Alfie, Oklahoma, I mean, anything at all.

Studs Terkel Now, what about the Berber people who saw that? Did they sing and

Nicole Dreiske They had marvelous, marvelous songs and they're in-between flute, darbuka, and chanting and singing. They had had absolutely marvelous music but they would usually play at night. You see, we happened to be in Tunisia during what they called the Ramadan and during the Ramadan it's a period of fast. And during this hottest time of the year they don't eat or drink until 8:00 o'clock at night. And it's a terribly difficult time for them for the whole-- for everyone who is a a practicing member of the Muslim religion. And so only after 8:00 at night, you know, were we ever able to hear really the music and see the dancing. But, they would never sing or dance without asking us to be part of it. And so if they were playing we would we would bring our drum and we would play with them even if we were only, you know, peripherally involved in it. It was it was a tremendous thing. And the singing what we found was that if we started to improvise singing in tune, you know, in tune to their the playing of the drum or the flute that we could find a connection that transcended both our cultures. That it wasn't American, it wasn't like singing Oklahoma for a 3 year-old or 8 year-old Tunisian children who have never heard English, you know, that's something else that's that's just an exchange. But when you have a real crossover where, with the music and with the singing and with the dancing, all right, you are all participating equally and no one idea or culture is dominating another, that you are all working in it together. It's a very very exciting feeling.

Studs Terkel That was the experience part-- so, you learned from the Berber people while there? Now, how did it affect your interpretation of Lear? What did it do?

Nicole Dreiske It made our appreciation of the tensions between a king, or a patriarch, and his daughters certainly much more acute. And, for example, in our Lear the women would have no way of just directly claiming the power from him. They must go to the people. They speak to the people, and our version of Lear, if you will, which is all original text again states this problem vis-à-vis the needs of the tribe. In other words, a struggle between the absolute social structure which has to be-

Studs Terkel Did you get permission from any of the Berber people or spokesmen or spokespeople?

Nicole Dreiske Oh, every time we went into a village. You had to speak to the head man of the village.

Studs Terkel So, a couple of years pass and you come across a contemporary classic Gabriel García Márquez's "100 Years of Solitude", a quite remarkable novel that is a classic of our day. The Colombian novelist, writer, you you pick up the story.

Nicole Dreiske Well, I suppose, Studs, it was after the desert. I really couldn't think for a while of any greater challenge. We had gone to the desert thinking that we were going to extreme danger, which we were, and that possibly we'd come out with nothing. But here we'd come up with a trilogy and in fact the last play in that trilogy is now being toured, is still being toured two years later, but in January of this year I was looking for a new project and I had been familiar with "100 Years of Solitude" for quite a while. And it's also a very timely thing in my mind vis-à-vis the Latin American culture. You see, when I started this process, I have in the group now one Mexican actress, I am part Cuban myself, all of the actors who are now in the group had had previous contact with the Latin American culture. I have one actress who has written the only bilingual musical ever to be published in this country and the other the male actor spent three years working with a Latino theater group so the interest was there and we had, in a program called 'Parables', many times been asked for sections of "100 Years of Solitude." Now, to explain that, 'Parables' is an improvisational performance in which the audience submits the ideas.

Studs Terkel And where do you do this?

Nicole Dreiske We do it everywhere, we do-- we tour, that's how we-

Studs Terkel In the United States?

Nicole Dreiske Yes, well, no certainly in Africa we've performed 'Parables' and in in France, in Belgium, and in Canada we've performed 'Parables.' But three times people requested stories from this book and, for example, someone asked once for the story of the ascension of 'Remedios the Beauty' and someone asked, once, for the moment in which Aureliano faces the firing squad, and someone else asked for the story of Mauricio Babilonia. And after three

Studs Terkel These are the sequences and characters from-

Nicole Dreiske From-

Studs Terkel Marquez's novel?

Nicole Dreiske Correct. And, at that point, I had had so much contact with the book I had been rereading it and I knew that it was almost impossible to put into a dramatic form. A) There is very little dialogue, okay? All of the action of the book is is interiors recounted by Marquez and also time is non-linear. He works backwards and forwards in time with tremendous flexibility so transposing any kind of dramatic-- transposing that book, rather, into a dramatic context would have been a very, very difficult task. Now also there are many problems regarding that because Marquez is extremely sensitive about it for many reasons. One, he doesn't want anyone's face associated with Aureliano and he has made that statement public. He doesn't want one big star to come and be Aureliano and the very famous quote that he gave, I think it was in an interview in Russia, was that it if they offer me a million dollars for the rights to the book the price becomes two million. If they offer me 2 million it becomes 10. If they offered me 10 it becomes 20. He

Studs Terkel He really doesn't want it done.

Nicole Dreiske Doesn't want it done.

Studs Terkel Why, then-- what did-- how did you? What's your relationship?

Nicole Dreiske Because he does not want it done in a commercial framework with a big star who is going to claim the role of Aureliano and he doesn't want it done in a com-- in a standard dramatic context. Now, you know, they've tried it in Columbia many times. They have- I had many interviews there-

Studs Terkel They tried do what? As a was a film or a play?

Nicole Dreiske They tried-- no, no, they tried the the theater people have tried to take sections and, for example, what was described to me was that they'd put a very real- realistic Melquiades, who is the- a gypsy in the book, and they'll put a big black hat on him and they'll have him doing a kind of a realistic interpretation of a gypsy and it ruins, ruins the sense of the book and because our work is completely non-realistic and because it too plays with time and because it is based on images and a flow of images rather than a narrative,

Studs Terkel This deals with-- this the the span and family living in a town called-

Nicole Dreiske Macondo.

Studs Terkel Macondo. Now Macondo's a mythical town.

Nicole Dreiske That is correct. It-- most people think of it as being Marquez's birthplace which is Aracataca. But, even though they tell you to go to Aracataca when you're in Columbia, they know that you're not going to find Macondo in Col- in Aracataca because it is a composite of many places and many times in Columbia and Marquez pulled historically from so many times it couldn't possibly encompass just that hundred years.

Studs Terkel Obviously, then you're not doing a literal- the book it's it's impossible do that.

Nicole Dreiske It is not only-

Studs Terkel Because its a mythic work.

Nicole Dreiske Yes

Studs Terkel It's a poetic, lyrical wild fantasy everything.

Nicole Dreiske And the beauty of it is that there it has gone so deeply into the consciousness of those people that there are folk songs about the characters. There are paintings-

Studs Terkel You mean, the book itself is known in

Nicole Dreiske Yes! Not known-

Studs Terkel No.

Nicole Dreiske It's breathed. It's lived.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Nicole Dreiske They call Macondo the state of mind that a poet has right before he writes a poem.

Studs Terkel Yeah. You mean now, when you say the people of Colombia, you mean aside from the intellectuals, students, teachers, people generally know

Nicole Dreiske Studs, we did a performance, or rather, a an improvisation in the town square the plaza in Aracataca which is Marquez's birthplace and I am telling you that, at that point, children were participating in it. We were doing-- working with the section of the gypsies first coming to Macondo and when José Arcadio Buendía who is the head of the family becomes enthralled with the idea of discovering gold with magnets and the children are talking to the man who's playing José Arcadio they're telling him, "It won't work. It won't work. Don't do it." and they're participating in the entire

Studs Terkel So how did you, well

Nicole Dreiske Even the children

Studs Terkel [unintelligible] the question is your permission. It seems like a delicate matter to me. You didn't get permission from García Márquez?

Nicole Dreiske We did everything humanly possible for a group our size to do that. Now, by that I mean that we contacted both his left-wing and his right-wing friends. Messages were sent via his personal friends in every country in the world. All, added to which, a four-page letter was-

Studs Terkel I'm asking you whether you got permission from Márquez. Obviously, you

Nicole Dreiske But this was-- tt was a courtesy. It was a courtesy stunt. We are not

Studs Terkel You're not using the book.

Nicole Dreiske We're not using his book and we're not using his text.

Studs Terkel Well, it's inspired by the book, is that it?

Nicole Dreiske Very inspired. And just as- but look at it this way, Studs, when a work is has that much impact culturally and psychologically-

Studs Terkel You're saying it's public domain.

Nicole Dreiske No, not public domain. No, there's a big difference between that. But you can, between that and what I'm speaking about, but you can be inspired, for example, as the folk songwriters were inspired to write a folk song and they use the name Mauricio Babilonia. But, you know, the name Macondo, they name everything Macondo every-- it's the bookstore Macondo and the the library and the gas station Macondo and I have pictures of all of those things.

Studs Terkel [Of?] Course, the book is part of the now-- of the folklore.

Nicole Dreiske But not just of Columbia, of all of South America when we were trying to do this project and set it up the Ecuadoreans said, "Come to our country. Macondo is there.", the Venezuelans said, "Macondo is my town." In Mexico, we had tremendous support to go to Mexico because Márquez has lived there for many years. People in Mexico said we "have to go to Mexico, you'll find Macondo in the Tabasco area. It's there. Just go look for it." I mean every every Hispanic culture claims that book.

Studs Terkel Of course, you can't take no for an answer

Nicole Dreiske No. Not [unintelligible]

Studs Terkel Well, let's skip that part and, an example, you took a sequence inspired by-

Nicole Dreiske Better than that. We worked for six months prior to leaving just getting used to the idea of solitude. What it was for us as North Americans and what changes we would have to make going to South America. And an outline of images was made, seven pages, prior to leaving and, for example, the fulcrum of that outline, the most important part of our piece, is a balance of three powers whose names, whose names we will not use if we don't get Márquez's written permission. But these powers are, theoretically, Pilar who has the power of understanding the present. In other words, talking

Studs Terkel She's the wife?

Nicole Dreiske No, Pilar is is basically the town whore is what she is but she reads the cards. Úrsula, who is the wife, whose power is that of understanding the past, and Melquíades who writes the future. So what we have, are fulcrum of powers in the book, what makes the play continue, stop, go sideways, and backwards are these powers of the past the present and the future. And they give permission for time to continue and for the stories to be told. And that's the central conceit.

Studs Terkel I'll ask about your colleagues, are these the same ones who went with you to the Tunisian desert?

Nicole Dreiske Some of them. Some of them are the same actors, yes.

Studs Terkel So what do you do? Just go back to specifics, how you work. Workings. Then we'll come to the production itself.

Nicole Dreiske Yes. So, you take these, say these three, role elements is what we call them, the Pilar, the Úrsula, and Melquíades and you develop a physical vocabulary so that they are imagistic. So that they portray from the depths of their own creative resources rather than that of those of Márquez and then you allow them to interact and they speak of the people with whom they have worked and for-- and in that respect, now, I hate this analogy and it's not a correct one but in the same way that something like Spoon River Anthology was constructed you have the construct there although ours goes forward and backwards from the interactions of this trilogy or tria- triad, rather, of powers. The past, the present, and the future

Studs Terkel Well, this is Nicole Dreiske and her current adventure in theater. What would you call it, theater plus?

Nicole Dreiske Theater and beyond.

Studs Terkel Theater theater and beyond, of course, theater and beyond. And we look forward to seeing Macondo and, eventually, your Asian adventure. Thank you very much.

Nicole Dreiske Thank you.

Studs Terkel For now thank you very much while you're here on this planet.