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‘A Girl Without Wings’ a Contemporary Fable on Andean Myth for All Ages

Janice Amaya as Chaska, the shepherd girl, being taken to the skies. Photo by Jonathan Slaff.
Janice Amaya as Chaska, the shepherd girl, being taken to the skies. Photo by Jonathan Slaff.

A contemporary riff on an Andean myth, “A Girl Without Wings” by Jason Williamson, directed by Kathleen Amshoff, is an object theater piece telling the story of a lonely condor who falls in love with a spirited shepherd girl. The play is based on a folktale of the Quechua speaking communities of Ecuador and Peru. IATI Theater and Dramatic Adventure Theatre will present the piece October 4 to 27, 2013 as the first production in IATI’s newly-renovated facility at 64 East Fourth Street. The piece, a fable for all ages, is recommended for audiences aged 8 to 108. The production is supported by the Jim Henson Foundation.

Basing his play on a popular myth with many forms, Williamson chose to focus his plot on the complex character of the condor – a lonely, insecure messenger who carries humans’ prayers aloft to the gods. This demigod courts the shepherd girl, Chaska, not as a giant vulture but as a human boy who would convert her into his mate and fly away with her for eternal life in his aerie. The villagers’ simultaneous attraction to him and revulsion to a bird that “eats dead things” symbolizes life and transformation via rebirth. The girl, who would rise above her mean, impoverished existence, is torn between her loyalty to her family, the infatuation of first love and the mystery of a life in the skies. Her quest to redefine herself in the face of her community’s expectations lies at the heart of the play.

Using puppetry and simple theatrical techniques to tell the story, the production will be created as a living Tigua painting. (referring to a vivid Andean art genre that depicts indigenous stories on sheep skin canvases). Expanding frames, manipulated by the cast, will help to create the grand shifts in scale found in Tigua paintings, directing audience focus between “close-ups” and “wide shots.” Object manipulation will enact dream sequences and recreate the breathtaking landscape of the Andes. Manmade and natural materials – including bone, wood, leather and the vibrant textiles of Ecuador – will be manipulated by the actors to bring a magical world to life. Textiles will appear as individual threads, which actors will use to create birds’ wings and other instruments of storytelling.

Janice Amaya as Chaska, the shepherd girl, being taken to the skies. Photo by Jonathan Slaff.

The actors are Janice Amaya (Chaska), Matthew Stannah (Condor), Laura Riveros, Andrew Clarke, Christen Madrazo, Michael Axelrod and Ivano Pulito.

Set design is by Brittany Vasta. Lighting design is by Carl Wiemann. Puppet consultant is Emily DeCola of Puppet Kitchen (www.puppetkitchen.com). Costume design is by Angela Harner. Dramaturg is Christen Madrazo.

Dramatic Adventure Theatre (DAT) (www.dramticadventure.com) is an international company with service art projects in Ecuador, Slovakia and Zimbabwe. Since its founding in 2006, DAT has produced 18 plays, developed six ongoing programs, participated in more than 23 service projects in 14 communities and taken over 145 American and British artists abroad, where they’ve engaged with disenfranchised communities through performance, educational workshops, and service. While abroad, DAT artists devise, rehearse, and perform pieces inspired by their experiences, which are then produced for their local community in NYC. DAT is a sponsored project of Fractured Atlas.

Playwright Jason Williamson and director Kathleen Amshoff are both core members of DAT who first collaborated on work for family audiences at the Kennedy Center, where they created “American Scrapbook: A Celebration of Verse,” a multimedia piece using American poetry to depict the legacy of John F. Kennedy. “A Girl Without Wings” represents next collaboration and was inspired by their time in the Quechua village of Quilotoa, Ecuador in 2009 and 2010 and was first developed at the Kennedy Center’s Page to Stage Festival. Williamson and Amshoff initially met at Carnegie Mellon, where they both earned MFA’s.

Plays by Jason Williamson have been produced or developed at NY Theatre Workshop, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, the NY Public Theatre, Stanford Summer Theatre, the Drama League, and Speaking Ring Theatre. He is also the Resident Playwright of Exit, Pursued by a Bear, a Hell’s Kitchen collective known for its socially immersive theatre events. With EPBB, Jason was a recipient of a 2011 EST/Sloan grant.

Director Kathleen Amshoff directed and developed plays at the Culture Project, Cherry Lane, Ma Yi, 2G, the Lark, Wild Project, New Resonance Orchestra and Galapagos Artspace. She was a 2001-2002 Fulbright scholar in Berlin and the 2011 SDC Foundation Denham Fellow for her production of “Swell,” adapted from the graphic novel as the headlining production for Culture Project’s Women Center Stage Festival.

IATI (International Theater Arts Institute) (www.iatitheater.org) is a New York-based, non-profit performing arts organization established in 1968, dedicated to serve both English and Spanish speaking audiences of all ages. Its productions aim to be both play and provocateur, combining “the prose of Gabriel Garcia Marquez with the intrigue of Borges and Cortazar.” This is the first production in IATI’s newly renovated space at 64 E. 4th Street. “Girls Without Wings” (Oct. 4 to 27) will be presented in repertory with “Light of Night” by Cecilia Copeland (10/10-27).

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