Independence Foundation New Theatre Works Initiative through People's Light & Theatre/Longwood Gardens Commissions Project (2010-2013)

Twelve playwrights and twelve scenic designers from around the country were invited to participate in Phase I of this Initiative in Fall 2010. We gathered at Longwood Gardens where I was partnered with Tony Straiges, a Tony award winner for his design of Sondheim's A Sunday In the Park with George on Broadway and a Tony nominee for his design of Into the Woods. We spent the weekend learning about Longwood's world-class gardens and scheming about site-specific work that we might create.  In February 2011, Tony and I submitted a proposal for a theater piece based on Maria Sybilla Merian's visit to Suriname in 1699--1701. It was accepted and further research and development was funded.  The working title for our piece is the Chrysalis project, inspired by Kim Todd's fabulous book on Maria's life.  

SURINAME (July 11-July 22, 2012)

I decided to follow in Maria's footsteps.  With malaria pills and Deet, I headed to Surinam to learn more about the climate, the natural world Maria encountered and the many cultures she interacted with in this northeastern corner of South America. I spent the first three days in Paramaribo where I investigated the Neotropical Butterfly Park and farm, the old colonial forts of the city, and an abandoned sugar and rum factory.  Then, through METS Travel and Tours, I flew into the interior of this rain-forest clad country in a small Cessna.  I spent three days at Palumeu where an Amerindian Trio tribe lives.  The nearest village to Palumeu was four hours away by boat. I spent the remaining four days at Awarradam near villages occupied by descendants of the Maroon tribes.  In both locations, I hiked through the rainforest behind machete-carrying guides and glided through the rocky rivers in dugout canoes manned by local navigators.  I learned first hand how the rainforest sustains these tribes and how important it's ecosystem is to all of us. I saw howler monkeys, flying fish, a three-toed sloth, pirranha, a tarantula, soldier ants, the blue morpho butterfly...the list goes on.  I found the trip enormously helpful for my research.  I am so grateful to the many people in my path who opened up worlds to me there; I am also grateful to the Independence Foundation and to Arcadia's Faculty Development Fund for helping me finance this travel.