Matara is a new play by Conni Massing based on a story of a female Asian elephant (Matara) in a modern western zoo. The zoo’s viability is on a brink following recent events. The story is experienced from different perspectives since the characters occupy take on different roles and positions in this world.
The zoo has just hired a corporate director Romney (Patrician Zentilli) to reform the narrative in order to reinstate the corporate image. However, Romney ends up having a difficult time trying to get everyone on her side.
Karen (Elinor Holt) who is the elephant’s caretaker doesn’t give Romney an easy time because she doesn’t share the same ideas with Romney when it comes to the course of action to ameliorate the zoo.
Marcel (Minister Faust) who is an international student working as a security guard seems to have a difficult time staving off the Wildwatch protestors. Additionally, his inner chaos are agitated by the current turn of events (he just lost his brother back in Rwanda and his graduate studies seem to take a toll on him).
The play dwells within a chaotic clash of narratives. The overarching question in the play is ability to speak for the animals.
Matara, the only Asian elephant remaining in the zoo experiences physiological and psychological difficulties following the death of Cheerio (the other elephant) who passes on before the commencement of the play.
The play challenges us to contemplate on animal welfare and the place of zoos in our society. Every ‘human’ character in this zoo seems to want the best for the Matara but cannot pin down what that best is.
The DRAMATURGICAL process
Dramaturgically, the process was very collaborative in nature.
The story was mapped on a zoo facing an impending detrimental flood. The process of discovering the essential aspects of the play depended on a number of contributions from different artists.
During the workshop and the rehearsal process, a number of aspects guided the realisation of the world of the play. The discussion aimed at gaining a practical shape in order to materialise the essential aspects of the play.
At the heart of the dramaturgical collaboration was the exploration of the ways we could present the elephant on the stage in a compelling way. The concept of making Matara malleable allowed everyone participating in the process to be able to contribute.
Randall Fraser (a puppeteer) who was in charge of designing the elephant figure pointed out that the process felt collaborative because he felt like he was on equal ground with the rest of the creative team in terms of creative input. On the same discussion, Erin Gruber (the set and costume designer) said that “Being able to work closely with the director and puppet designer/builder allowed me to manipulate the space to best provide a design which will hopefully support not only the storytelling of the script but also the function of the elephant puppet for the performers.”
Randall, Tracy Carroll (director) and Gruber provided guidance to the team on how to engage with ‘the elephant in the room’. In a short interview, Randall identifies that one of the most compelling artistic exploration the play offered was “the opportunity to re-imagine the presentation of a life size elephant on stage in an engaging way that best serves the needs and constraints of the play—to make the elephant puppet a sympathetic character to the audience.”
[Randall and Tracy guiding the actors]
In course of the process, the discussions questioned the various ways we could capture the essence of the elephant in a compelling way. Dramaturgically, we worked on a number of frames of focus trying to find out the ways we could place the physical aspect on equal grounds with the other aspects of storytelling. As a dramaturge, the play offered me the challenge to explore the ways research can be used to open up the world of the play in realising the core relationships, voices and representations.