Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: Griot Theatre recently premiered the play, The Archer from Malis, on which you have worked as the director, as well as the Artistic Director of the theatre company. What initially inspired you to bring this Philoctetes adaptation to the stage?
Malik B. El-Amin: Staff from The Getty Villa had seen our first production of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. They were interested in whether we might bring the Griot Theatre aesthetic to a Greek play in their theatre lab. As I explored texts, my acting teacher from graduate school reminded me of Philoctetes, a character and play with whom I had a developed a deep connection, back then. The best material to start with, as a director, is a piece that moves you – then one only need figure out how that translates to the other artists working on the piece, and ultimately, the audience.
BD: For readers who may be unfamiliar with Philoctetes, how would you describe its premise?
MBEA: The Greeks have been fighting the Trojan War for 10 years when an oracle tells them they cannot win until they bring Philoctetes and his bow to fight for them. The problem is that 10 years ago, they abandoned him on a deserted island, after he had been bitten by a snake and had become a nuisance to them. The play begins as the Greeks return to the island, needing to convince, trick, or force Philoctetes to join their efforts.
BD: Do you feel that both of your roles with the performance have complemented one another as you have worked throughout the creative process?
MBEA: Being the Artistic Director of Griot Theatre and acting as director of this play allowed for a singular through line from inception to execution. As Artistic Director, I chose the play based on the compelling story; the potential to cast women, people of color, and those with physical disabilities in significant roles; and the potential to make the play relevant for modern audiences with the Hunger Games setting. As director of the play, I was able to keep those three elements foremost in the process and discover new things along the way.
BD: Why do you feel that this play will resonate with audiences, and what do you hope that they will take away from the performance?
MBEA: In the original text, the gods are only spoken of and appealed to in pleas. Hercules only appeared at the very end of the play. Here, we make the gods present throughout – interacting with Hercules from the beginning, adding Zeus as a new character, turning the idea of the gods into action. The presence of the Gods does the most to connect to the Hunger Games theme, as their roles are very similar to the gamemakers in the books and films. Ultimately, the play ends up being about choices: how we make them and how they are affected when we know our decisions will have consequences. I think audiences leave the play wrestling with how they might have handle similar choices and what code may or may not affect choices they make in their own lives.
BD: You have quite a talented cast and crew involved with the production. What can you tell us about their creative process in bringing The Archer to life?
MBEA: The creative process has been incredible. Starting with the designers who brought ideas I’d never imagined to the set, lights, costumes, and sound and moving on to the actors who similarly showed me new possibilities, even from the audition process. For example, I had originally intended for Zeus to be played by a man. At auditions I saw men who might be good for the part, and a women who had come in to read for a different character. Her presence, ability, and energy all pointed to Zeus, rather than the character for whom she had submitted. At the callback auditions it was between her and two guys, and Elmira Rahim won the role, creating entirely new possibilities for the Zeus character that would have, otherwise, been closed to us.
Similarly, Regan Linton who plays Neoptolema uses a wheelchair. She had a difficult time handling her wheelchair and Philoctetes’ bow in one particular scene. We kept struggling with the moment until we decided to hand the bow off to another character. The hand-off and getting the bow back from that character is now one of the signature moments in the play and likely would not have existed had we gone with a different actor.
I am firm believer in the idea that creativity often springs from running into obstacles and solving those problems.
BD: The Archer from Malis will be running through May 22 at the Lounge Theatre in Los Angeles, CA. What is the best way for our readers to garner tickets for the show?
MBEA: Tickets may be purchased at www.GriotTheatre.org.
BD: Are there any other upcoming shows or projects that you would care to share with our readers?
MBEA: Griot Theatre produces a New Voices Play Festival. Its purpose is to develop new work by artists from underrepresented groups. The next festival will be September of this year.
BD: Lastly, what would you like to tell fans who want to learn more about The Archer from Malis?
MBEA: First, they may go to www.GriotTheatre.org to learn more about the play and see pictures. There’s also more information and an opportunity to interact with the actors on Facebook.