Where Words Once Were, commissioned by The Kennedy Center from Irish Australian playwright Finegan Kruckemeyer, tells the story of young Orhan, who lives in a world where words are both very precious and very dangerous.
“It’s our world in the not-too-distant future, when global warning has taken over and sea levels have risen to such a level that all the world’s communities live on one little island and a lot of fighting ensues because people speak in different ways and call things different things,” says director Colin Hovde. “The government, created out of the chaos, decides that language is the problem and they restrict the language. If you speak out of those 1,000 words, you are silenced and can’t use the language and relegated to doing menial tasks.”
Hovde, Producing Artistic Director of Theater Alliance, has been a part of the DC theater community for a dozen years, starting with a Kenan fellowship from the Kennedy Center’s education department. He has assisted-directed a show there and coordinated International Cultural Exchange programs between the Department of State and The Kennedy Center.
The idea for Where Words Once Were came from a conversation Kruckemeyer had with Kim Peter Kovac, producing director for the Kennedy Center’s TYA Department.
“Given our shared love of poetry, he asked me to write a work which cast language as a central character,” Kruckemeyer said. “I loved this abstract, evocative invitation and set about trying to find an answer,” Given my regard for language and its many powers, I decided to convey this by imagining its absence—a world in which language is rationed and its misuse penalized. Within this structure, I fashioned a love story between a girl who has been silenced and a boy who wishes to hear her, and all else flowed from there.”
Colin Hovde explained “Kim reached out to me about six months ago when they chose to go forward with the commission, and he sent me the script and I was blown away by it. What I saw was a story about how we don’t acknowledge those who are silent, and we don’t see them, but if we can start waking up and seeing the world around us, there’s a lot of magic and value in those relationships.”
Kruckemeyer flew 30 hours from Tasmania to D.C. in July to spend four days at the initial workshop of the production, collaborating with Hovde to get the most out of the script.
Where Words Once Were
November 5 – December 3, 2016
Details and tickets
“We dived into the play, had a wonderful group of actors who asked tons of questions and gave him tons of feedback on what was working and resonating, and by the end of the weekend, he had a new draft,” the director says. “A month and a half later, he had a completely new draft and it’s very powerful.”
Hovde reveals that he wasn’t one of those loud, boisterous kids when he was younger, and that this play speaks to the child inside him, as he hopes it will to all kids.
“I feel this is an important lesson for kids on both sides of the spectrum,” he says. “It’s about waking up and seeing those around you. This piece is truly a love story. It’s important for kids to see the world among them and for those who might feel silenced to realize they have a voice.”
Important lessons like these are one of the reasons that Hovde enjoys working in theater for young audience shows so much, and he thinks this production is a testament to the playwright and the work that the Kennedy Center puts on.
“The thing that’s magical about TYA is they come in ready to play and use their imagination. It’s a completely captive audience, which is super exciting,” he says. “Usually their parents come with them and they get to see a show that they may think they know what to expect but the Kennedy Center—specifically with TYA—they don’t put on shows with bright sneakers and hats turned backwards, they put on shows that ask difficult questions for children and also adults. That’s due to Fin’s writing.”
In Kruckmeyer’s opinion, there shouldn’t be a distinction between the experience that a young or older person should have at the theater.
“I think there is a potency in the act of going to the theater, which stems from it being both personal and communal,” he says. “You sit within a crowd, but draw meaning from moments seen onstage alone. Sometimes a feeling is shared (the big laugh that ricochets, the weighted silence that settles upon all), and sometimes it is you conjuring an analogous meaning from something all by yourself. That dual state feels exciting and live and rich, and as an exercise in collective empathy, it feels like a healthy psychological game to play. Young and old deserve that equally, I think.”