Fringe Festival Performance

The cast and creators of What the Heart Remembers are in Scotland for performances at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

By Barbara Melendez

USF News


TAMPA, Fla. (Aug. 3, 2012) – Scotland’s capital city swarms with talented artists and enthusiastic audiences each summer for what is the world’s largest arts celebration – the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. 

Running from Aug. 3 to Aug. 27 this year, the festival will feature performances of a University of South Florida College of The Arts production, What the Heart Remembers: The Women and Children of Darfur. It is part of the International Collegiate Theatre Festival which showcases the finest collegiate theater productions.

Thanks to the outreach and fund-raising efforts of School of Theatre & Dance Director Marc Powers, the cast and creators left for Edinburgh Thursday. There will be six performances during their 12-day visit. The hybrid dance performance/play is nominated for the festival’s Amnesty International Freedom of Expression Award. 

For more than half a century, Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the granddaddy of all the fringe festivals throughout the United States and the world, has presented theater, dance, puppetry, spoken word and whatever else can be considered part of the performing arts. There are big names and unknowns – all seeking to provide attendees with memorable experiences. 

Audiences are guaranteed something memorable with What the Heart Remembers, winner of Creative Loafing’s Best Dance Performance of 2010, and a glowing review from John Fleming in the Tampa Bay Times.

Inspired by Darfur refugee children’s drawings shown at an exhibition by Waging Peace, playwright and director Fannie Green and choreographer Jeanne Travers sought to help out by using their skills to expand their impact.

“News stories never captured the events of Darfur the way What the Heart Remembers seeks to do, nor could they,” said Green.  “Jeanne and I wanted to bring home what we felt when we saw what those children revealed in their innocent way.  We did our best to magnify their message and amplify their voices in a sense.”

Some fringe festivals last a few days, some a few weeks.  What they have in common is uncensored original creativity.

What the Heart Remembers meets those criteria. 

The production takes on the most difficult of topics – genocide – with courageous originality and tremendous artistry. The dancers are called upon to act, to speak and to sing in ways unique to this production which showcases their talents as well as those of composers, musicians and a gifted sound designer. 

Audiences will find themselves fully engaged in a deeply emotional journey where they will experience dismay, shock, terror, sadness, outrage and in the end, reason to hope, along with a call to action.  Rare is the artwork that can accomplish so much, so powerfully.  This has everything to do with how fully engaged every participant is and how deeply they all feel about the subject matter.

“It can be overwhelming sometimes,” says Katurah Robinson, a USF adjunct professor, who portrays a refugee woman. 

In order to present through dance the essence of the suffering experienced during the African continent’s longest civil war, it was necessary to try to understand what the people went through.  Robinson did research, understanding it was not possible to know exactly what they went through, but did “become intimate” with many details.

“It’s no longer something you just heard about,” she said.  “You can no longer dismiss atrocities you hear about on the news quite as easily.  Some of the places we hope we take the audience are places we went to within ourselves and places we go to with each performance.  It was and continues to be an amazing and heartfelt experience. ”

Caitlyn Casson, who graduated in May, said she felt “a sense of responsibility” regarding her participation.  “We’re delving into an area of life – genocide – that we have never experienced firsthand.  Before we can hope to portray an authentic representation of such an event we must educate ourselves.”

In the course of doing her research she found news accounts differed between the U.S., Darfur and Europe.  “How do you present what they went through faithfully?  What we as artists hope to do is provide the audience an entryway into experiencing something unknown to them.  We hope that our performance can allow them to relate back to their personal lives on a deeper, more intimate level.  I believe that is our job as artists.”

After mounting the full production in 2010, Green and Travers had to cut 30 minutes from their production for Edinburgh.  Because the performance schedules are so packed, fringe festivals typically require minimal time and the most basic technical requirements. 

Missing is the set that transformed Theatre II into a refugee camp. Missing are the wooden planks and the video of desert images projected onto them. But what Travers misses most are the children, ages 5 to 12, who were part of the original cast.  There was no way for them to make the trip.

“As artists we get attached to every part of the work we create,” she said. “Editing is always a painful process.  But there were compelling practical reasons, and we managed to keep a great deal of what we all felt was important to telling the story of Darfur.”

Though pared down, an equally forceful work of art shines through. The dancers evoke the location’s austere atmosphere and portray a full range of experiences that needed to be told.  In fact, so much emotion emanates from the stage, that audiences may wonder how the dancers manage to keep their composure.

“It’s a tricky place to go,” said Casson, describing the challenge of performing and depicting so many tragic occurrences.  “It’s all too easy to go to a fake place, but it involves feeling something that’s real and learning how to hold it together, you feed off of everyone’s energy and trust it to guide you emotionally to come to a collective sensation on stage.”

John Archer, the production’s original sound designer who graduated last December, returned to help take the sound to a new level. 

“This time around I’m not balancing courses, I’ve been able to take the time to do things I only dreamed about doing the first time around,” he said.

Archer feels a sense of loyalty because “that was the first time someone let me take on that much responsibility and it was a very important learning experience for me. Besides Fannie Green is such a genuinely nice person, especially when I was learning on the fly, I had to come back to help.”

Archer, who now freelances as a sound mixer and designer and a voiceover actor, was struck by how different his task was, recreating the sounds of Sudan this time around.  When he started in 2010, Sudan was not yet a nation nor was there much in the way of sounds on the internet.  Things have changed. Sudan now has a national anthem, which is used to close the new version of the play. 

“One of the things that gets me about this play is that it deals artistically with something that’s usually only talked about at the United Nations,” Archer said.  “After you see this show you have to ask yourself, ‘we’re in the same world as this?’ and you wish the people in a position to do something about what happened had done more to prevent it.”

He appreciates how the experience has changed how he approaches his work.

“I feel a responsibility to bring a greater authenticity to the fictional pieces I work on because I had to be so rigorous about being true to the very real story of Darfur.  The experience helped me look for what is real within fiction.”

What the Heart Remembers will be performed Aug. 6, 7, 9 and 10 at The Space @ Surgeons Hall.

Barbara Melendez can be reached at 813-974-4563.