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Voices From Chornobyl

2012 was the first year since 2005 that my April hadn’t been all about promoting awareness of the nuclear accident at Chernobyl. The history of the project is longer than the piece itself, and explore this site for more information. I adapted the play from 2015 Nobel Prize winner Svetlana Alexievich’s book Voices From Chernobyl.

For the thirtieth anniversary of the accident, I’ll tweet the entire script during the month of April. Follow @VoicesChornobyl to read.

Below is a sample of the script and a demo video we produced for the 2007 International Chernobyl Conference. We used to promote awareness and raise funds for Chernobyl charities by doing readings around Los Angeles. If you are interested, please contact me.

CHARACTERS (and ensemble members)

Katya Shimanky, young girl at the time of the accident (Kappa Victoria Wood)

Vasily Shimanky, Physicist (Brad Beacom)

Irina Shimanky, Doctor at a Radiation Hospital (Katie Sweeney)

Anna Sushko, Resident of Chornobyl (Enci)

Arkady Filin, Clean-up Crew Member (Aaron Lyons)

Grigory Brovkin, Former Soldier, Leader of a Clean-up Crew (Michael Laurino)

Stepanov Morozkov, Vasily and Grigory’s Supervisor (Brian Sparrow)

Sergei Gurin, Cameraman from Minsk (Shawn Macaulay)

Ludmila (A Solitary Human Voice), Wife of a Fireman (Kristin Mochnick / Carolyn Blais)

Valentina (A Lonely Human Voice), Wife of a Clean-up Crew Member (Daryl Dickerson)

NOTE

At times the characters speak to their Interviewer and at times they are back in the moment. If there is a slash (/) on one line, then the following line should overlap at the point of the slash (/).

 

VOICES FROM CHORNOBYL 

Adapted by Cindy Marie Jenkins

From the book by Svetlana Alexievich

 

KATYA

You’re writing a book, but so far no book has helped, explained it to me. No more than the theater or the movies. I figure it out without them. By myself.

ANNA

There was no sign.

KATYA

We’re all going through this alone, and we don’t know what to do.

ANNA

Anna inspiration

Inspiration for ANNA

Sometimes, your palm itches and you know to get ready. But today, no signs.

KATYA

We don’t know what to do. I want to love, I try to love! I pray for my love! And—-

VASILY

My first reaction was to call my wife and warn her. But all our telephones at the Institute were bugged. That eternal fear, beaten into us through the decades.

ANNA

The first fear came out of the blue, over water—

VASILY

My family didn’t know.

KATYA

My father is particularly bewildered.

VASILY

My daughter – at this moment she would be walking to school. With friends. Outside.

 

KATYA

He always taught me to live by books. And suddenly books cannot help. My parents are confused. My father does not know how to live without the counsel of books. Without Chekhov and Tolstoy, and the old Greek masters.

Remember? I want to remember and at the same time I don’t.

VASILY

Shut the windows.

KATYA

I remember my mother’s phone call in the early morning.

IRINA

There’s a fire at the atomic station. Orders are to keep the radio on.

KATYA

We lived in Pripyat, just three miles from the reactor. I was born and bred there.

VASILY

Listen to me very closely.

IRINA

What are you talking about?

VASILY

Quiet. Shut the windows. Put all the food in plastic bags.

Put on rubber gloves and wipe every surface with a wet rag. Then put the rag in a plastic bag and get rid of it. The laundry drying on the balcony has to be washed again.

IRINA

What’s happened ther—

VASILY

I hung up. She was in medicine. She was bound to understand.

KATYA

Remember? Perhaps it’s better not to. Just in case. We saw the fire—

ANNA

–and we figured it was temporary, and no one was worried about it. We didn’t know about atoms, I swear! One nightingale sang all night—that means a sunny day.

LUDMILA

In the middle of the night, I heard a noise. I –I don’t know what to tell you about! Death or love? Or is it one and the same? What shall I tell you? We were newlyweds. We still held hands in the street, even if we were just going to the store. I told him: “I love you.” But I didn’t even know how much. I had no idea. We lived in the hostel of the fire station where he worked. Below us, on the first floor, were the fire engines.

Red fire engines. That was his work. That was all he ever wanted to do.

(Takes a deep breath) In the middle of the night, I heard a noise. I looked out the window. He saw me and said, “Shut the windows and get back to sleep. There’s a fire at the reactor. I’ll be back soon.”

(pause)

I did not see the explosion itself. Only the flames. Everything seemed to flow.

ANNA

fire truck on fire

KATYA’s drawing from 2011 production: Voices From Chornobyl Jr.

People took their small children outside, lifted them up and said, “Look, how beautiful! Don’t forget this.” We stood in that horrible black smoke.

LUDMILA

The whole sky. The flames were high. And smoke. Horrible heat.

KATYA

The smoke over the station was not black or yellow, it was light blue.

ANNA

We did not know that Death could be so beautiful.

IRINA

The police and the military set up roadblocks, they were letting no one out. We spent all day watching TV, waiting for Gorbachev to speak. The authorities were silent.

KATYA

I stared all day out of the closed window. It was just an ordinary fire, being put out by ordinary firemen.

LUDMILA

And he was still out. They went off to the fire without their protective gear, just in their shirt sleeves. They were summoned as if to a normal fire. I sat and waited. Four o’clock.

VALENTINA

I’d go to church, where it was so quiet.

LUDMILA

Five……

VALENTINA

The way it is in the mountains sometimes.

LUDMILA

Six……..

VALENTINA

So quiet. You can forget your life in there. But in the mornings, I’d wake up. I’d wake up and feel around for him. Where is he? I’d shut my eyes and think about him until I fell asleep. In my sleep, he would come to me, but very quickly. Vanish immediately.

LUDMILA

Seven o’clock.

VALENTINA

Where is he? I can’t tell you what it is like. I don’t know how I manage to stay alive.

LUDMILA

At seven they informed me that he was in the hospital. I ran over there, but police would not let anyone in. Only ambulances could drive in. The policemen shouted: the ambulances are radioactive, don’t’ get close. I was not alone, all the wives whose husbands were at the reactor that night, were there. I grabbed onto a Doctor as she walked by—“Get me inside!”

IRINA & LUDMILA

I can’t. He’s in a bad way. They all are.

LUDMILA

Pleas! Just to see him.

IRINA

(Hands her a form)

Sign this.

Do you have children?

LUDMILA

I thought, I have to say yes. If I say no, they won’t let me see him.

Yes.

IRINA

How many?

LUDMILA

A boy and a girl.

IRINA

Now listen. The central nervous system is completely damaged, the bone marrow is completely destroyed.

LUDMILA

AL right, so he’ll be a bit nervous…….

IRINA

And listen—

IRINA & LUDMILA

If you cry, I’ll throw you out right away. You may not hug or kiss. Don’t come close.

LUDMILA

I’ll give you half an hour.

VASILY

That day, April 26th, I was in Moscow. On a business trip.

ANNA

The first fear was…..in the morning we found dead moles in the garden. Who killed them?

KATYA

We’re all going through this alone, and we don’t know what to do. I cannot comprehend it with my mind. My grandmother said she had no childhood. She had the war. Their childhood is the war and mine is Chornobyl.

GRIGORY

I had just returned from Afghanistan. I wanted to live, to get married. I wanted to get married right away. And instead I got a notice with a red stripe

Meaning “Special Draft.” Show up with your things at the following address within an hour. My mother started weeping. She thought they were sending me to war again.

ARKADY

At the time I was thinking about something else. This will seem strange to you.

GRIGORY

(To ARKADY) Get in the van.

ARKADY

But just then I was getting a divorce from my wife. Everything else seemed minor. They would come suddenly and a special van was waiting downstairs. Just like 1937.

VALENTINA

I loved him madly. Maybe you shouldn’t use my name.

VASILY

I called once, two, three times, but they wouldn’t put me through.

VALENTINA

There are secrets. People say prayers in private. Whispering.

VASILY

I found an assistant. “I’m calling from Moscow. I have urgent information. About an accident!” As soon as I started talking about the accident, they disconnected me.

VALENTINA

No, use my name. Say it to God.

STEPANOV

I heard that there was a fire there, and it’s been put out.

VASILY

That’s a lie! Deceit!

It’s a serious accident. According to my calculations, the radioactive cloud is moving towards us. Towards Belarussia. We must immediately give prophylactic iodine treatment to the population and move out everyone living close to the station. People and animals within 100 kilometers have to be moved away.

STEPANOV

Had a phone call. From the Kremlin. From Gorbachev. Something about not starting a panic in Belarussia. The West are making too much of it already.

KATYA

At the foot of the hill puffs a tractor

At the top of the hill a reactor

If we hadn’t heard it from the Swedes

We’d still be eating all those seeds.

Shawn original

Actor Shawn Macaulay in front of his painting for original 2006 production, Open Fist Theatre

clean up crew

Actor Aaron Lyons painted this image of the clean up crew for original 2006 production, Open Fist Theatre. 

[New] Artist Statement

I applied for a grant recently. I didn’t get it, but was forced to detail how I went from a theatrical director to digital media consultant and now straddle writing with my consultant freelancing and being the primary caretaker of my son (Lil’ Pirate Dude).

It’s a little long, which I’ll fix for the next round of grant applications, but I thought it might be of interest to tie together all of my interests.

I am Cindy Marie Jenkins, CMJ to many. I am a Storyteller, Outreach Nerd, Parenting Nerd, Mama to Lil’ Pirate Dude, Theme Park Wife, Former Theatre Director, Fairy Folk Myth Nerd, and Recent Transplant to Orlando (remember the Theme Park Wife part)?

For a decade, I’ve been obsessed with building new audiences for theatre. This began when I realized I was sick of doing all that work just for my family and friends to see. Sure, we can enrich one another, but art within the echo chamber is not enough for me.

        Through a six year project Voices From Chornobyl, I found success in reaching peopleVFC through a theme, a topic rather than people showing up to “support theatre” just for the sake of it, or because our friends are in it, or because we all work in it. At the same time, I was in charge of marketing for a small classical theater who had a stellar reputation but still struggled for audience and funding. It became clear to me that the ways that marketing had worked for decades were not nearly as effective with the age of the internet, and artists were falling behind the times faster than newspapers. Keep in mind, this was way back in 2009 when you still had to convince a theater company to go onto Facebook; the mere suggestion that you had to think beyond a press release was a battle, uphill both ways. I heard many artistic leaders take the simple route of blaming smartphones instead of exploring them, and condemning audiences rather than investigating their strategies, or even talking to them.

           I reconciled my dreams with the fact that the typical theatrical career path is not for me. I always knew that art could serve a real purpose in changing how people think. Through and beyond empathy, showing how others live and think can go a long way towards opening minds.  I didn’t want to direct whatever came my way just to grow my career. I enjoy entertainment for entertainment’s sake, but I want to create art that holds great value beyond the production. I want to use stories as a bridge towards greater empathy in the world. Every time I chose a project based on the greater good it could do for society, I worked at my best and was happiest. Every time I took a gig for any other reason than great passion, I felt limited by the story’s (lack of) need to exist, my lack of connection as to why, and didn’t do my best work.

Then in 2009, through an outreach project called Imagine East Hollywood, I worked closely with the East Hollywood Neighborhood Council and identified that local government faces the main two issues as most theaters had: (1) they only reach the same people and (2) if you don’t know they exist, then you can’t show up, never mind get involved. Beyond that lie at least ten hassle factors to stop someone from attending either. Most people didn’t even know they lived in East Hollywood. I used a film project, interactive visual art display, outreach tables at LA wide events and an immersive theatre experience to help people understand the agenda and workings of a neighborhood council, plus learn how their ideas could help their neighborhood and turn them from passive residents into active stakeholders.

These experiences led me to train myself (with guidance from Enci Box and Tamara

Krinsky) in social media, new communications models, and generally critique most vague, short term attempts to develop audience. I became an Outreach Nerd and trained individuals, then groups of self producers, and quickly added nonprofits, the City of LA and small business owners to my clients.

This quest for the audience led me to Manchester England, where I gave a keynote speech to Chernobyl charities on using my play, adapted from a book of interviews, to raise awareness and funds for their work. A 9-minute demo film was used to entice new donors. By 2006, the 25th Anniversary of the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, two groups in the UK did perform the piece, and my own ensemble led a series of readings throughout LA and San Diego. We also produced a workshop of Voices From Chornobyl Jr at local libraries and the Hollywood Fringe Festival.

This desire led me to brand myself a Storyteller AND Outreach Nerd, to align the idea of writing and stories into audience building, tying my name to “outreach” rather than “marketing” in an effort to change the direction of people’s thinking about their audience development.

This obsession led me to 24th STreet Theatre, where I could focus on acting as concierge for families to find quality art they enjoy together, while finding the correct medium to share stories that happen every day in this converted carriage house in South LA.

This adventure led me to experimenting with arts coverage during every Hollywood Fringe Festival, from interviews over Twitter to Google+ Hangouts, then from a full-fledged arts review show to podcasts and instagram reviews.

This need to find and engage arts-adjacent folks while feeling increasingly frustrated with theatre as an industry also led me to the longest crisis of faith I’ve ever experienced. Just as I was seeking a new direction, theaters called on my “marketing” (cringe) skills more and more. The more I was expected to just do the short term work that I knew didn’t last and that I so despise, the more I understood that my current path was not working for me. I don’t just want to be the one training artists to change their mindset on audiences; I don’t just want to be the ambassador to new audiences anymore. I also need to create the art that draws new audiences in the door simply by being good and meeting audiences where they live. In many cases, that requires me to move my creative writing as far away from a theater as possible.

Currently I freelance as a Consultant and Writer while raising my beautiful son.

 

My History with Half Lives

Follow along with me tomorrow night as I see the opening night of Half LifeI’m always interested in what REDCAT offers, but this story hits close to my creative home. From their press release:

Weaving together narrative and abstract modes of storytelling, Half Life explores the psychological fallout of global disaster, and how it affects our emotions and imaginations. It’s story centers around two women who literally and figuratively live on opposite sides of the world. When an unknown cataclysmic force disrupts both of their lives, each is compelled to embark on a journey to locate its source.

I have a history with shows about nuclear fallout. From 2004-2011, much of my life was consumed by one project, Voices From Chornobyl. During those years, it had been presented in both the US and the UK to raise money and awareness of the nuclear accident (inspired by Svetlana Alexievich‘s interviews). Its companion piece Voices From Chornobyl Jr. premiered and won Best of 2011 Fringe.

I found the experience both fascinating and frustrating, to bring ‘awareness’ to a time in history when the Ukrainian people’s lives changed forever, and so few of us had any clue (so few of them, for that matter). I stuck with the project because of my complete ignorance before reading Alexievich’s book. Then in 2011 at the 25th anniversary events, Fukushima happened and it seemed almost too immediate, too relevant for our times. I scheduled talkbacks to explain the difference between the two accidents and fallout, so we could feel the impact of Chernobyl but not make our audiences run out and buy iodine.

So I’m interested to see how this project attacks its subject.

All the info is below. Follow my experience on twitter, Facebook & instagram

REDCAT Presents the World Premiere of
Half Life
The newest work from Los Angeles Multimedia Collective
Cloud Eye Control

Thursday, January 15, 2015 to Sunday, January 18, 2015

NOTE: They sold out the entire weekend and so added a Saturday matinee at 4 p.m. on January 17th.


Photo Courtesy the Artist.

(Los Angeles, CA) — REDCAT, CalArts’ Downtown Center for Contemporary Arts, presents the World Premiere of Half Life, the newest work by Los Angeles multimedia ensemble Cloud Eye ControlThursday, January 15 to Sunday, January 18, 2015.

Cloud Eye Control was formed in 2006 by the Los Angeles based trio of animator and media artist Miwa Matreyek; composer, writer, and performer Anna Oxygen (Anna Huff); and theater director Chi-wang Yang, all known internationally for their stunning work individually and as a multimedia collective.

A deeply expressive lamentation of fierce urgency, the latest multimedia production from Cloud Eye Control is an imagistic, visceral work inspired by the nervous fear felt in the wake the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. It features Cloud Eye Control’s signature hybrid performance style that mixes projected animation, live performance, and a live soundtrack of original electronic music.

Cloud Eye Control transforms the stage into an imaginative landscape with several customized, moveable screens full of lush animations where live actors interact in the layered space to create imaginative and odd encounters between the virtual and the physical. The original score, sung by the performers with a live band, brings a rock concert dynamism to the moody and atmospheric world.

Cloud Eye Control’s Half Life is part of a continued supportive relationship with REDCAT. Cloud Eye Control’sUnder Polaris, anepic journey across a vast arctic expanse was co-commissioned and premiered by REDCAT in 2009. The piece went on to tour nationally and internationally, to Chile and France, and helped establish Cloud Eye Control as “transcendently spectacular theater” – Los Angeles Times.

In 2014 REDCAT presented Cloud Eye Control member Miwa Matreyek’s magical, visually rich fusion of intricate video animation and solo performance to sold out audiences that were left spellbound.

More on Cloud Eye Control can be found at their website, http://cloudeyecontrol.com

Artist bios:

Miwa Matreyek is an internationally recognized animator, designer, and multimedia artist based in Los Angeles. She creates animated short films as well as live works that integrate animation, performance, and video installation. Arriving to animation from a background in collage, her work explores how animation transforms when it is combined with body, both physically in her performance pieces, as well as a composited video element in her short films. Her work has been shown internationally at animation/film festivals, theater festivals, performance festivals, as well as art galleries, science museums, tech conferences, universities, and more.http://www.semihemisphere.com

Anna Oxygen is the stage name of multi-media artist, composer and performer Anna Huff. She has extensively toured Europe and the United States performing musical and interactive performance pieces. She has released several albums of electronic and acoustic music, most recently This is an Exercise on indie label Kill Rock Stars. Her performance and video work has been presented at PS1 MOMA Contemporary, The Seattle Art Museum, LACMA (LA), NYU, The Armory Center for the Arts (Pasadena), The Portland Institute for Contemporary Art, and the Rohsska Museet in Gothenburg, Sweden among others. http://www.annaoxygen.com

Chi-wang Yang is a Los Angeles-based director of theater and performance. Whether in the form of plays, operas, concerts or installation; his work is physical, experimental, and collaborative. He is committed to expanding notions of identity and theatrical form and to exploring the unstable intersections of body, narrative and technology. His work has been presented at theaters and galleries internationally, including REDCAT, Baryshnikov Arts Center, Havana International Film Festival and the Edinburgh International Festival Fringe. Recent directorial projects include They Are Dying Out, by Peter Handke, and The Closest Farthest Away/La Entrañable Lejanía, a groundbreaking international collaboration between American and Cuban artists.http://mysteriously.org

“Magical…unlike anything you’ve seen before… transcendently spectacular theater” —Los Angeles Times

Cloud Eye Control: Half Life

Thursday, January 15–Saturday, January 17, 8:30 p.m. and
Sunday, January 18, 3:00p.m.

NOTE: They sold out the entire weekend and so added a Saturday matinee at 4 p.m. on January 17th.

Tickets: $16-$25
Location: REDCAT | 631 West 2nd St. Los Angeles, CA 90012

For more information call the REDCAT Box Office at 213-237-2800
Or visit: http://www.redcat.org/event/cloud-eye-control-half-life

Half Life is produced with Los Angeles Performance Practice, and was made possible in part by a creative residency with the CalArts Center for New Performance.

Half Life is funded in part by the New England Foundation for the Arts’ National Theater Project with lead funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation; the LEF Foundation; and The MAP Fund, a program of Creative Capital, primarily supported by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.

New England Foundation for the Arts

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