Georgia Clark

A New Decade Dilemma

Innovative NY theater company International WOW presents a realization of the classic Odysseus story, just in time for a new decade.

"Auto Da Fe"
Baruch Performing Arts Center, 55 Lexington Avenue, NYC
January 8 – January 24th
Tix $15, information:

"There are 30 actors in this play. The intricacies of finding a physical score for all the bodies up there have been awesome." Photo care of Melissa Chambers.

The always-ambitious International WOW kicks off the new year with "Auto Da Fe", a realization of the classic Odysseus story. With a 30-strong cast onstage, the tale is told as if the hero of Homer's epic poem has returned to his homeland but it's been replaced by an industrial wasteland called the Memory Pit, that's being run by the History Processing Operation. The play, originally produced in Kyoto and Tokyo, is a dreamscape of collective amnesia, life during wartime, the self-conscious erasure of history and national identity, and a search for meaning and beauty. We spoke to ensemble member Melissa Chambers about the creation of this adventurous new work.

Q. How is International Wow different to most theatre companies?

A. We try and make work that responds to the socio political landscape that we’re in. That sounds obvious but it’s becoming less and less the case in new work these days. It’s something that gets overlooked the further down the art hole you go. "Surrender" was about engagement in the Middle East, "Reconstruction" came directly out of the foreclosure crisis in America and "Auto Da Fe" is a response to the new decade dilemma - how do we exhume what came before and mourn it, and then what do we do next.

Q. What is the rehearsal/ development process like for a new show?

A. We build our plays in rehearsal. There’s a constant stream of invention rather than interpretation and it starts from a physical point of view. We spend a week or so building compositions based on the ideas or world or physical requirements of the thing we’re dealing with. This will take the form of 30 odd requirements to be strung into a piece that is performed on a deadline every rehearsal. It’s a way of vomiting up your purest instincts, giving it a shape from a saturated point of view. Also a lot of stuff gets discarded and retrieved at the last moment. And it’s pretty silly as a rule. Some of the greatest moments in theatre for me have been between actors in the WOWhaus who are past the point of imagination fatigue. We dance a lot.

Q. What specific challenges does "Auto Da Fae". present, both as a performer and to the company in general?

A. "Auto Da Fe" is like a piece of music. It’s very heightened and it’s also a translation from Japanese, which has a whole range of challenges. Narrative hasn’t really been a guide in making this show; it’s more about finding rhythms in the sound and shape of the action, and the pressure of moments. There’s a great line in the stage directions about the actors being seered into the stage. It’s felt like that a lot. There’s a lot of heat on this stage. Auto Da Fe is the term applied to the trial and immolation of heretics, this idea and this form has been a guiding concept.

Q. You're an Australian actress living in NYC – what are the main differences between New York and Australia?

A. There's an over abundance of talent and innovation in Australia - what it doesn’t have yet is the momentum of this place. The context (financially especially) to carry ideas and people through a sequence of projects and bust out the other side with something new. It’s that sequence that breaks new ground in theatre. Everywhere you look new ways of seeing in the theatre has come as the result of a kind of relentlessness from groups of people. The New York avant guarde is the best place for that in the world right now.

Q. What's the craziest thing that's ever happened at an IW show?

A. We have a lot of audience immersion in our shows generally. During "Reconstruction", which was about heartbreak and love, our director Josh Fox arbitrarily chose members of the audience to participate in scenes. For four shows in a row, the people he chose were all ex-boyfriends or girlfriends of the actors onstage. It was spooky.

Q. And what's the craziest thing that's ever happened to you?

A. I suddenly didn’t really feel like an actor anymore. I felt like someone in the world just pointing at something and speaking up. It feels like the thing that can sustain you as a young artist and as an old one, and that’s a crazy discovery. Oh, and Greco roman wrestling 3 boys in a row… and winning.

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