Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Meet the R&D: Snehal Desai

This post is by R&D Group director, Snehal Desai, about the piece of investigative theater that he created in San Diego at the Old Globe titled "Peregrine: Balboa Park," an immersive, migratory theatrical experience staged in Balboa Park (where the Old Globe is located). For more about Snehal's project, click HERE!

Balboa Park, is a picturesque arts and cultural center with gardens, museums, restaurants, and outdoor performance venues.  It is also home to the San Diego Zoo.  The park was created in 1868 and has served as the host venue for two World’s Fairs.  The park for me also physically represents the diverse city that is San Diego.  The architecture and gardens are influenced by a myriad of cultures particularly Mexican, Japanese, and Spanish styles.  In this way, you can quickly walk from one world into another, sometimes to jarring effect.  For Peregrine, I knew I wanted to do something that was immersive in Balboa Park and something that was tied its history.  Its at this point that I paired up with playwright Lauren Yee to see if she would be interested in writing a piece that told a story and took the audience through the park.  The initial plan was that she would write and I would direct.  However, that changed when we decided to have two routes for audiences to choose from.  Lauren would provide the text for one of the paths and I would provide the text for the other.  Being more of a novice playwright then Lauren, I thought that I would create a piece based on interviews with visitors and those who worked in the park.  Lauren and I then began researching the park through articles, books, online sites, and also by speaking to people who worked in the park.  I was hoping through all this research to maybe come across an event or incident in the park that I could then interview individuals about and get their different perspectives on a la Rashomon.  Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on how you look at, I didn’t find one such galvanizing event that had occurred in the park in the recent past.

As the writing deadline approached, I knew that I was going to have to write my own piece but was at a loss as to what that was.  I kept conducting interviews and talking with people in the park.  However, I became less formal in my interviews with folks since I knew the interviews would not be my primary source material.  By conducting the interviews less formally, I also freed myself from becoming entirely focused on the person I was speaking with and allowed my mind to go on tangents off of things that they mentioned.  It was as I had a conversation with a busker in the park that I got the idea of a modern day Orpheus and Eurydice type love story set in the park.  I now had my story and idea and what ended up happening was that the interviews ended up providing me with details and insight that I incorporated into my piece such as the fact that there used to be a nudist colony in the park, the discovery of a unique location where a couple had their first kiss, to who had the best food in the park and why. 

In this way, Peregrine expanded my idea of what I think of when I hear the term Investigative Theater.  My mind no longer only goes to pieces created from and using verbatim text. Upon my return from San Diego, I became more interested in investigative theatrical work and the form and that is what led me to the Civilians R & D group.  The group has not only given me insight into the Civilians’ process but also allowed for me to see six brilliant playwrights utilize interviews they have conducted in a variety of very dynamic and interesting theatrical ways.  The group has also introduced me to other collaborators interested in working in this way and now with Cesar Alvarez, (whom I met through the group), and Lauren Yee, Peregrine will be arriving in Central Park in the near future.  -Snehal Desai

Thanks for sharing your process, Snehal. For other posts from our other R&D Group artists, please click HERE.

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