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Ennobling Nonna

The peasants cannot recognize my gifts. They make me lose my temper. And I lose it every day. At least twice.

Director’s Note

EN began several years ago, around 1999. Maria Porter approached me with an idea to explore physical theater techniques that had become important to her as a working actor and teacher. Simultaneously, I had an idea to explore how those often strange bedfellows of cultural studies and technology could work to enhance theater performance. Out of a series of conversations and spontaneous rehearsals, we began to craft a way to work through Maria’s advanced training in Suzuki technique toward an end of physical storytelling.  But we had no idea what sort of story we wanted to tell. We endured several false starts, one of which involved - literally - Maria performing the Microsoft dictionary beginning with the letter “B.” 

On September 11, 2001, Maria was working in Switzerland with a group of women artists of Teatro Delle Radici; while I was traveling to Calgary to present work on corporeality to a group of video game designers.  After we each managed to get home - I rented a car and drove across Canada listening to accounts of the WTC attack on the radio; Maria was delayed in Europe for an extra week and separated from her anxious family during that time - we both realized that the most important stories always have to do with people and the choices that they make.  Culture and technology are engaged by people; and people experience culture and technology daily, in the theater of everyday life. 

Maria focused her energy on a search for her grandmother’s legacy to her, and Ennobling Nonna began to take shape.  We rehearsed sporadically over two years, between other jobs and Maria’s several stage and film roles. Last fall it became clear that we needed to gather more collaborators to present these experiments to an audience. Designers, technicians, and administrative support gathered around the project - theater is, of course, among the most collaborative of art forms - and finally, we’re all excited to share this work with you. 

EN tells its story through oblique physical movements; through spoken text and recorded world music selections; and through mediated imagery. It offers no easy chronological narrative, nor summary précis. Rather, it tells a story of a woman’s search for a cultural identity through an intensely physical performance. In this, EN fulfills the basic premise that motivates its producing organization Slippage: that performance - by people - may be at the center of explorations involving culture, technology, and theater. 

Thomas DeFrantz
Associate Professor
MIT, Music and Theater Art