I met Usha Akella when she was doing a keynote presentation at the Power of Words conference in 2019, put on by the Transformative Language Arts Network. We both were interested in writing, poetry, creativity, and the spiritual path. Usha has long had a dream of developing an interview site online and I have been doing various interviews for my work – so it seemed like a good fit and less than a year later The-POV was born and launched into the world!
Usha’s first new interview is with Ann Ciccolella, Artistic Director of Austin Shakespeare since 2007. One of the things Usha has been impressed with is the depth and breadth of cultural programming Ann has curated.
Usha Akella: I am delighted to finally have an opportunity to explore your creative visions, Ann. I’ve attended your plays for years in awe at your ability to cast any play in a contemporary light. Your cross-cultural productions and multi-ethnic casts contribute to dialogue and peace-making. Your productions are playful, pushing the edge yet never lacking conviction or losing a grip on the playwright’s script. You’ve managed to bring Bollywood and Texas boots, and a female Hamlet to your stage. So, let’s begin by exploring the audacity of Ann Ciccolella. Why are you compelled to rewrite/reimagine or re-vision and can we chat about some of your productions that you felt were successful and those that were not—in your opinion.
Ann Cicolella: My own playwriting is a top value for me. Writing my own adaptations is something that I have been doing in the past couple of years. I want to do more playwriting, but finding the time needed to create scripts from their inception is something that I haven’t been able to do since leading Austin Shakespeare! So, I have been adapting classic stories. I used the plot of Homer’s epic poem The Odyssey and wrote a one-hour play version for middle and high school audiences. That experience was alternately challenging and delightful. During the rehearsal process, I try to inspire actors to create an imaginative performance, and with six actors we together created the many worlds of Homer’s The Odyssey. You see, adapting is a way to satisfy that thirst for my own playwriting.
My first interview for The-POV is with my friend and mentor, Joseph Rael (Beautiful Painted Arrow). Joseph is of the Southern Ute tribe through his mother and of Picuris Pueblo through his father. Joseph is the author of a number of books and he and I have written two books together, Walking the Medicine Wheel: Healing Trauma & PTSD (2016) and Becoming Medicine: Pathways of Initiation into a Living Spirituality (2020).
David R. Kopacz: We’re going to have a section of Becoming Medicine reprinted in Parabola magazine – Jeff Zaleski wants the sections, “Initiation of the Circle” and “Moon Woman Vision.” You have statements in those sections that we are “circle people” and “what comes around goes around” and that “everything eventually becomes its opposite.” You also say, “Look at how we move in a circle, but then look at it from the side and it looks like we are moving forward and backward, back and forth. It depends on your perspective of seeing.”
Joseph Rael – Beautiful Painted Arrow (BPA): That’s apropos for this time. That’s how it is – we move back and forth and back and forth. We move forward and then we spoil it by invalidating it. In order to get in tune with it, we need to use our feet. That’s why we have these physical feet and they are made for traveling. When we go forward we add something. But then we go backward and we forget it. In this life, you have to be constantly correcting yourself.
That’s what my dances are supposed to do. They check everything on the list. When you are dancing you move forward and backwards in balance. You dance to cover the winter; you dance to cover the spring; you dance to cover the summer; and you dance to cover the autumn. You also dance to cover the North, South, East, West – the directions.
I’m just being a book from the universe and showing you what to do.
You can read the full interviews at The-POV.