Beneath the Concrete

I was recently introduced to a woman by the name of Emilia Javanica, who has created a piece of interdisciplinary visual theater on the subject of a devastating earthquake that hit Indonesia in May, 2006. The piece, Entitled Beneath the Concrete is scheduled to be performed Friday and Saturday evenings at the Contemporary Art Institute of Detroit (CAID). We didn’t have a lot of time, but I was able to ask Emilia three quick questions about this piece, the events that inspired it, and her objectives in performing it. Here’s our conversation.

bricksMark: What can you tell us about the show?

Emilia: Beneath the Concrete is based on my experience living in Yogyakarta, Indonesia when a devastating earthquake hit in May 2006, killing over 6,000 people and leaving more than 1.5 million homeless. My own home, which miraculously survived the earthquake, was right next door to a family whose home had been completely destroyed. The grandmother along with her month-old grandchild inspired the story for this interdisciplinary play.

Beneath the Concrete combines elements of tragedy, satire and the grotesque to transport the audience directly into the atmosphere of a post-earthquake village in Indonesia where the action takes place. The main character, Sumarni, is an old woman who survived the earthquake along with her month-old granddaughter. While trying to convince her son to come out from underneath their destroyed home, Sumarni daydreams of food; food becomes both a physical necessity and metaphor for the sensual familiarity that was taken so quickly from her. In an exaggerated state of denial, Sumarni inhabits an imaginary world where the comfort of food is the one hope she clings to. Paralleling Sumarni’s story is the story of an American newscaster who through the support of U.S. donation dollars goes to Indonesia with the intention to help but is unable to do so effectively. Beneath the Concrete explores the relationship between two separate worlds: the world where the old woman’s denial in the face of disaster amplifies to the point of absurdity, and in contrast the world where the newscaster’s alienation from disaster, despite the intention to help, ends up making things worse. The clashing of these two perspectives opens a window into the conflicts of East and West, of heroes and victims, of developed and developing nations. Beneath the Concrete will offer audience members insight into the direct experience of natural disaster, blurring the boundaries between the media’s portrayal of disasters and the actual experience of being there when it happens. Beneath the Concrete incorporates elements of puppetry, theater, mask, bouffon, sound and choreography to create a tragic yet disturbingly funny tale.

Mark: What are you hoping to accomplish with the work? Is there anything that you would like to see come of it?

Emilia: I’d like people to leave the performance with a feeling like they entered into another world. I’d like them to feel a combination of being disturbed and completely entertained. Hopefully they’ll leave with a new perspective on disaster and the way the media portrays it- not just that, but also on globalization, East & West, Indonesian culture, the noble savage, and ultimately the absurdity of it all. For me, I’d like this piece to lead to more great interdisciplinary collaborations with other awesome artists. Of course I’ll feel a sense of accomplishment of finishing this work, which has been a wild ride of coordinating almost everything myself. I’ve learned a lot. I think that’s really what I’ve gotten out of it the most: the excitement of creating my own work, and yet also the realization that logistically, a stage manager can be a really amazing thing. Lastly, I’d like this to be a shared experience for everyone who’s there. The CAID is a fabulous space, the people involved with the project are talented and amazing, and I’m sure everyone who shows up to see it will be great, too. I also hope that we will successfully raise a lot of money to send to the local organization, Posko Tuntungan in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, who are helping victims of the recent volcanic eruptions, which has been a really tragic event that hasn’t gotten much attention in the media. So that we’re coming together not just for our own selves, but also for someone else as well. And that’s really what the show is about.

Mark: Do you have any plans to perform it in Yogyakarta, or Indonesia generally? If you were to perform it there, what kind of response would you expect to receive? Do you think that it might, in some way, be cathartic for the people whose stories you’re telling?

Emilia: I would love to perform it in Yogyakarta and Indonesia. It would be interesting to bring it there and collaborate with some of my artist friends in Yogyakarta, see how it changes based on the environment, different ideas, etc. I would be very curious to see how people would respond to the piece- I think it would depend very much on the audience- for example, performing it to local villagers as opposed to artist communities might be different. I imagine it would also be poignant for those who actually experienced the earthquake- there are moments in the piece that the sounds of the earthquake and of the actors screaming still gives me chills. Of course, it’s my own interpretation, and it doesn’t document the actual event realistically, but in some ways, that might make it easier for people to digest it: in an imaginary way that is based on real facts. But yes, that was something I was thinking when I first started writing and working on this piece; the possibility that at some point I would like to bring it to Indonesia. Now I just have to find funding for that!

Beneath the Concrete will be performed at the Contemporary Art Institute of Detroit (5141 Rosa Parks Blvd.) on Friday, December 10 at 8:00 PM, and Saturday, December 11 at 9:00 PM. A suggested donation of $10 would be appreciated.

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One Comment

  1. Edward
    Posted December 10, 2010 at 9:11 am | Permalink

    Kind of off topic, but this reminds me that we haven’t had a Thompson Block discussion here in a while. Does anyone know if there’s been any progress? It would be great if we could see something done with the structure before someone’s buried underneath it.

One Trackback

  1. By Casting for the Red Blob Massacre on October 25, 2011 at 10:49 pm

    […] but that doesn’t mean that people aren’t still making movies. In fact, a woman that we’ve talked with here before, Emilia Javanica, is going to be casting for a new project next week in Ann Arbor. Here […]

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