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What It Means to Disappear Here

nytheatre.com q&a preview by Jeremy J. Kamps
March 31, 2013

What is your job on this show?
Playwright.

What is your show about?
In WHAT IT MEANS TO DISAPPEAR HERE, one woman’s story of motherhood, love, and sacrifice runs parallel to the political reality of “Plan Colombia,” a US-backed drug war policy that has brought devastation to an already war torn nation.

When did you know you wanted to work in the theater, and why?
Moments that I know I want to work in theatre happen everyday. The first was probably by the way my parents put me to bed at night. On my mother’s nights to tuck me in, she told me epic stories. On my father’s nights, we created epic prayers that became lessons in global justice. He would tell me about a place in the world where there were problems, we would talk about it and then add it to the prayer list. The combination of stories and social justice made sense to me and the only way to make them mean something was to make them come alive. Theatre can do that. The moment that was probably the most formative was when at the age of 14 in a a span of just a few months, my parents took me to see The Seagull at The Guthrie, Fences in Milwaukee and A Raisin in the Sun in Chicago. After that, I wrote my first full play, and knew I would write plays for the rest of my life.

Why do you do theater (as opposed to film, or TV, or something not in the entertainment field)?
The shared, live experience of audience and artists is the purest form of compassion and human connection. I honor and admire the power of story in any medium, but putting it on stage, flesh and blood, allows the audience to truly know the people in the story. Most of the audience who comes to see What It Means To Disappear Here will be from the US and perhaps unfamiliar with Disappearances, Displacements and what the Drug War means to individual lives in Colombia. After this play, because Yulieth is there -- you can’t pause her or rewind her or watch the rest of her later. You can’t multi-task while she plays in the background. She’s there and you are in the same place with her. For these two hours, she can’t be ignored or left off the News or political agendas. And hopefully, after knowing someone like Yulieth, you will see yourself and your connection to the world in a new way, if even a little. TV and Film also have the capacity to do this, and some could certainly make cogent arguments that TV and Film can do it better, but for me, there’s something about the real possibility of being able to touch a character and the fear that you could get someone else’s blood on your new shirt, that evokes a deeper and more genuine compassion within us.

Why did you want to write/direct/produce/act in/work on this show?
3. I wrote What It Means To Disappear Here because, like many of my plays, I want to explore the central issue of our time: a tumultuous yet auspicious transition into becoming a global community. In this era of “Globalization,” we are interconnected through the web and TV, but how do we connect face-to-face? CEOs for international corporations sit in the same flights as refugees, forced to leave their homes. We have statistics about and fundraising for those suffering from famine, displacement and violence, but what gets lost in the numbers? For What It Means To Disappear Here, through the lives of Yulieth and each character, I hope to examine what “Plan Colombia” (US-Colombia strategy on the Drug Trade) really is. Colombia’s military is the third most funded by US tax dollars in the world. I want to try to take a closer look at the lives it affects so we can know them as actual people. I hope that Yulieth’s story reveals our shared sense of humanity and evokes compassion. In this time of developing a sense of belonging to a global community, compassion is a political act

Which famous person would you most like to get a fan letter from: Denzel Washington, Maggie Smith, Ang Lee, Jennifer Lawrence?
Denzel Washington.

How important is diversity to you in the theater you see/make?
Diversity is the central part of everything play I write, and the life I seek to live.