PerformLab interview with Samara Hersch

On Saturday May 29, the first edition of PerformLab started at Beykoz Kundura in Istanbul. PerformLab is an international and interdisciplinary program of Kundura Stage, in which new generation theater makers work on new concepts and enrich their working methods in practice. As a collaboration partner, Productiehuis Theater Rotterdam has invited four theater makers to participate in this exchange program. Before the workshops started, the makers were interviewed by Art Unlimited. The second interview is with Samara Hersch.

1. What is the essence of performance in your opinion? How do you define contemporary performance?
For me, contemporary performance is about an encounter; with another, with a stranger, with one self. I am curious about what can happen in this space between us, and what possibilities can be evoked, rehearsed, dismantled, that everyday life denies us.  

2. Do you believe in the transformative power of art? How? 
A friend recently said to me: "I am less interested in vectors, but rather art that impregnates my mind with new thoughts and dreaming." I love this statement, because this is where transformation occurs for me, in the slowing down that art can create. By providing a stretching out of time, space and new assemblies, I believe that we are able to create alternate channels of imagining, queering and listening that disrupt and resist the incessant noise, polarisation and distraction that so much of our lives are consumed by.  

3. How do you think that this pandemic which humanity is facing at a global scale today will transform performing arts in the future?
During this pandemic, I found myself in Melbourne - very far away from my artistic community in Amsterdam. What I have noticed from afar, is a greater sense of reaching out and a generosity in sharing resources and creative attempts to be together.  

At the same time, the borders between us feel stronger than ever. Whilst I support these new initiatives to remotely stay together, I do feel we need to insist on actually being together and creating the conditions for ‘real’ assembly. 

4. As a performance-maker how are you personally dealing with the challenging conditions posed by the pandemic? How did having to comply with the constraints imposed by COVID-19 in the creation process sparked your creativity?
Since I was already working with distance as a subject and performative tool, the pandemic led me deeper into this research. I was extremely fortunate to able to adapt my works ‘Body of Knowledge’ and ‘Sex and Death’ into ‘at home’ and digital versions.  

Whilst these opportunities have been extraordinary and I am so grateful to the institutions who have supported these new possibilities. I am also aware of what remains absent; the intangible energy in the room, the sound of the audience’s breath, the post performance conversation at the bar. These absences keep me in a state of longing, and reaffirm the need to physically be together again…which I look forward to!  

5. Are there any artist whom you can describe as "my master", or any person whom you think influenced your art the most? And if yes, who? 
I am inspired by many artists - most recently Edit Kaldor who was my mentor at Das Theatre in Amsterdam. I love the way she articulates emergent dramaturgies and insists on observing and staying curious to what is actually happening in the room. 

I am also inspired by Australian theatre director Bruce Gladwin, from ‘Back to Back Theatre’. In particular I am inspired by the way each of his works grow out of an unresolved question from the previous work. I like this positioning of art as research and the act of entering an ongoing conversation with one’s practice.  

6. When you are working on a piece, what sources inspire you? Do dreams play a role in your works?
What inspires me are different people I encounter and the ways that they articulate and navigate the world. Currently I work a lot with teenagers and I am inspired by their reckoning with society and adults in general. I am constantly being asked by them to rethink my assumptions and to imagine and demand radically new and sustainable futures. 

7. When do you decide to give a title to a work you are working on if it already does not have one?
Often the name of a work arrives unexpectedly and announces itself. 

8. What new perspectives do you think interdisciplinary production in arts provide to artists? 
At the best of times it provides a sense of community and new ways to care, to resist, to show up and to listen. 

9. What in particular (which performance, process, etc.) will you be sharing with the participants of PerformLab? 
I will be sharing my curiosity around distance and intimacy. Since I will be participating remotely I hope to explore the potential of distance as a tool for desire, longing and closeness. 

10. What do you imagine that you will be taking back with you after your experience in Istanbul attending PerformLab?
I hope to find new encounters and a broadening of my artistic community - I see this as just the beginning of a longer conversation…