"Murmurs & Incantations" at the New York International Fringe Festival, 2016
An Interview with Dahn Hiuni

Indie Theater Now asked Dahn Hiuni a few questions about his play Murmurs and Incantations.

Do you ever write about the people you grew up with (family, friends) and how have these people and the place where you grew up influenced your work?

I believe playwrights write from experience. Their plays are distilled experience, truths, which they share with us. Even if their stories and characters are not from direct experience, the truth of those characters, narratives and predicaments resonate deeply with their own. As philosopher-observers, playwrights utilize the insights they gained from observing and absorbing their earliest human interactions, with families and friends, as these are etched in memory and consciousness. In this instance, my current play "Murmurs and Incantations" is based on family history. Though interestingly, the driving force for the creation of the play, my great-grandfather, is a figure I never met, as he was killed in the Holocaust in 1941. The particular challenge of this piece was to find an authentic voice for him, in order to redeem and dignify his life. As for place, it too plays a major role in the consciousness of the play, for it is the places left behind (Eastern Europe), the new places arrived at (Israel, America) and the spaces in between that are central to the story.

Why is it important for you to be a writer as opposed to any other profession?

That's a very interesting question, as it is an issue tackled head-on in the play. There is an ongoing conversation, sometime conflict, within the play between image-making and use of words. Which art form is more important, valuable, ethical? This debate plays out between the main character, who is a visual artist and his grandfather, who was a man of letters. This theme very much reflects my own struggles as a lifelong visual artist and theater artist. So being a writer is something that I have examined very deeply from all angles. I think that while I have been committed to other artforms, there is a certain clarity, a moral clarity, a more precise purposefulness that can be argued when words are used.

What do you do when you are not working on a play (your hobbies, interests, theater related activities, teaching, etc.)?

I see other plays, films, dance, exhibitions, lectures. I am a culture hound. I am so curious and find it endlessly fascinating to see how other artists, of all mediums, process the human experience and put it into aesthetic form. As I mention above, I also make images, which I love in a very different way. But all of these things inform the writing. I do teach and I love to teach. In fact, there is an interesting intersection between my dual career in the visual and performing arts and it can be found in my work as a museum lecturer. I give tours where I stand in front of a silent object, but it is my job to bring it to life with words, with dialogue. I try to engage a one-time audience in an experience, with a beginning, middle and end, I try to generate meaning and engagement, and perform it in an hour! I'm also a swimmer who has had some of his most interesting ideas and internal conversations conducted under water in the meditative repetition of doing laps.

Are there things in this play that have happened to you or to others you know?

As I mention, this play is somewhat autobiographical. The main character, who is an art professor, is to some extent a surrogate for my own struggles with the ethics and efficacy of different artforms--one underlying theme of the play. However, I have tried very hard to give the character his own life, struggles and answers. The story line of the great-grandfather is based on historical events. I try to stand witness, across the generations, to his tragic story and to redeem it and give it meaning, today.

What is it about live theater that attracts you most, that keeps you revved and jazzed to work in this form?

There is nothing like live theater. The stakes are high and everyone knows it. While cinema offers a safe physical and temporal distance, and novels offer a kind of poetic distance, the spectacle of theater, with real living and breathing performers, with its immediacy and risk, makes us fully invested and on the edge of our seats. It's electrifying. I believe this is where the origins of theater in ritual may be tellingly invoked, as early rituals had important desired ends and great stakes, and were fully inclusive of the entire community.

posted August 1, 2016