Ekata Theatre’s new show On Mother’s Day tackles a complex, serious issue with a clear goal in mind: to humanise the individuals awaiting the death penalty. An ensemble piece on capital punishment which is performed in the round, On Mother’s Day will play at The Cockpit Theatre, London from 13th – 16th August as part of the Camden Fringe. I caught up with Artistic Director Erika Eva to talk all things Ekata Theatre, theatre and On Mother’s Day.Tell us a little about Ekata as a theatre company. The vision is clearly to create ‘relatable and relevant physical performance’ so what it is that tends to draw the company towards their chosen productions?
‘Ekata’ means ‘unity’ in Sanskrit. To us, Ekata is family. We want to create a community that stands against damaging ideologies of racism and poisonous nationalism, so the theatre we make transcends state borders and linguistic barriers. We are drawn to everyday stories of belonging. By exploring relatable and topical issues around identity, we aim to escape the straitjacket normalisation of gender and race.
On Mother’s Day looks at the life of one particular prisoner on death row – how does the show take shape around such a sobering focus?
I think it’s important to have a tangible focus when tackling big issues. In conversations around capital punishment, and prison reform in general, we are often hit with numbers, percentages and statistics, which tend to distance you from the people it affects. In On Mother’s Day, we offer the chance to relate to a human being – Ramón. The text goes through his memories and his relationship with his violent father, and we use a physical ensemble to bring his stories to life.
What would you say are your core intentions as theatre makers and as producers of a serious piece like On Mother’s Day – do you feel a weight of responsibility having selected a story like this?
Absolutely. The enormity of the theme is very humbling. We have a paradoxical feeling of not being able to translate even a surface of what a death row prisoner is going through but at the same time we have an urge to try, because the story is too important not to.
The show is clearly going to tackle serious issues, but is there hope or light to be found within the piece?
Yes, we as Ekata and me as an artist aim to bring hope and humor to all our shows. The healing and transformative power of humor is enormous, I believe humor also entails hope. In the play hope is also found in forgiveness and in the power of Ramón’s imagination.
On Mother’s Day will be performed in the round. What are the intentions or considerations behind this decision? Is this the usual formation for Ekata or is this a conscious shift for this particular production?
We want to create the feeling of the character being exposed at all times, to resemble the vulnerability and cruelty of facing public execution. Being at The Cockpit gives us the opportunity to also use height as we use the lower gantry to create the feel of a prison and the solitude of Ramón. Doing a piece in the round forces me as a director to constantly be looking for variety in movement.
Do you feel that the physical theatre aesthetic of the company lends itself particularly well to such a charged subject as this?
We use our physical language as a way to unpack the complex issues of the piece. Our stylised movement is always slightly detached from reality – this lets us look at the issues from a lot of different angles. Sound is also incredibly important in this, which is why our composer is developing a soundtrack which works in harmony with the visual language. I’m fascinated, as a choreographer, in using physicality to portray and explore internal and external worlds. In On Mother’s Day, the physicality gives us a way to break free from the cell at times.
I’m very interested in the background to this show. Saaramaria Kuittinen, the playwright, has produced this work based on written exchanges with convicts on death row via a scheme run by the humanitarian organisation Human Writes. How have the cast handled the experience of working on a piece like this which is rooted in real lives?
The script is inspired by the exchanges, but the writing is actually quite poetic. The cast is currently doing research on the topic to try to capture the way prisoners think and live on death row. One of the things that’s hard to get your head around from the outside is the incredible solitude they feel, spending 23 hours in a day in their cells.
Would you say the show is seeking to deliver a political message about the death penalty or is it more about having audiences engage with the individuals behind the associated sensational headlines?
We do oppose capital punishment. We’re choosing to oppose it by making compelling theatre that moves people, by seeking to undermine the dehumanisation of the prisoners by telling a relatable, humane story. We want to tell engaging stories which can reach across borders and even concrete walls, to prove there’s more that unites us than separates us.
If an audience takes just one thing away from seeing On Mother’s Day, what would you like that to be?
If it’s just one thought we would like them to take away, it’s that gendering strength only strengthens the spiral of violence. Toxic masculinity can be so harmful for young children trying to form their sense of self.
Now it’s onto the quick fire round!
Who or what has inspired you most in theatre?
Gecko Theatre are definitely high on my list of inspirations, the values, style and the quality of their shows are just astonishing.
Favourite theatre genre and why?
I’m not a big fan of categories! So my favourite genre of theatre is the kind of theatre that genre can’t define 😉
Etiquette debates – worthwhile or futile? Where do you draw the line? (A production like On Mother’s Day may well suffer far more in the face of rustling, phones and chatter than other, lighter productions might so I’m interested to hear the response here considering the nature of your show specifically.)
I want to serve my audience and absolutely love when I get first-timers in my shows. I’m not too fussed if they don’t know the etiquette as long as they enjoy the show! Theatre is live, anything can happen, it’s a two-way experience, and I love it for all that! The minute we start applying unwritten rules, we make theatre exclusive.
If you could bring change in terms of opportunities in Theatre to London right now, what would it be? What does London need?
I wish even with Brexit, the opportunities for European artists won’t suffer and we could see even more European collaborations in London.
Finally, to close, sell your show to readers in just one sentence.
On Mother’s Day is a visually arresting physical theatre piece about one man on death row who ran from violence only to find it within himself.
So there you have it! Remember: On Mother’s Day will play at The Cockpit Theatre, London from 13th – 16th August as part of the Camden Fringe and you can find tickets here.