su·per·geo·graph·ic | \ˈsü-pər-ˌjē-ə-ˈgra-fik\
Of a culture suspended between many countries, forged by a shared respect for its distinct parts.
I first started using the word to describe In The Water Theatre Company in 2016, usually responding to the question ‘where are you based?’ I would say, ‘we’re not based anywhere’ or ‘we’re decentralized.’ Nongeographic was the first attempt, but I’ve always resented descriptions stuck in the negative. We don’t want to be nowhere; we want to be everywhere.
For years now, the group that is The SuperGeographics have been an ensemble. Ensemble literally means “people who share time,” and we have. Maybe Hayley has never met Velani, but Hayley certainly knows Kristian, Annika, and Persia well. Kristian & Persia made Panic Everything’s Fine with Caitlin & Dante, who’ve met weekly with Violeta and Velani for six months. Juan Diego has been, sometimes tangentially, in a lot of those places. I got to be there all the time.
We’ve yet to all meet at the same time. We’ve split moments amongst ourselves, sent hours down the line like a game of telephone. In those hours we told stories and sometimes made plays; we shared parts of life and bits of experience. Along the way we grew up five years. The telephone-wire-webs thickened and thicken still. I hope to expand a spider-web city.
Thin Cities 5
“If you choose to believe me, good. Now I will tell you how Octavia, the spider-web city, is made. There is a precipice between two steep mountains: the city is over the void, bound to the two crests with ropes and chains and catwalks. You walk on the little wooden ties, careful not to set your foot in the open spaces, or you cling to the hempen strands. Below there is nothing for hundreds and hundreds of feet: a few clouds glide past; farther down you can glimpse the chasm’s bed.
This is the foundation of the city: a net which serves as passage and as support. All the rest, instead of rising up, is hung below: rope ladders, hammocks, houses made like sacks, clothes hangers, terraces like gondolas, skins of water, gas jets, spits, baskets on strings, dumb-waiters, showers, trapezes and rings for children’s games, cable cars, chandeliers, pots with trailing plants.
Suspended over the abyss, the life of Octavia’s inhabitants is less uncertain than in other cities. They know the net will last only so long.”
Invisible Cities, Italo Calvino
Sharing time is significant, but theater requires that we share space. Aptly, I really was somewhere when I realized the company’s name. A Bangalore cab to an overnight bus with Sandeep from Nepal on a call with Caitlin from Australlia, who was in Canada. It was SuperGeographic. An adjective made better by its linguistic versatility. ‘Super’, having vernacularized into spanish, swedish, italian, and hindi, feels nice on the company’s tongues. SuperGeographic Ensemble Theatre. SET. Like the card game I’d carried across the world to play friends.
This was in February, when the world used to move. This realization came after months of reworking Panic Everything’s Fine with Caitlin and Dante. We loved the play but knew there was a lot of work to be done, and we wanted to get doing. Violeta Picayo was an obvious addition. She and I were apprenticing at SITI Company to teach the training we love. The problem was we didn’t really have an entity to produce the play.
Two years ago, after Turtle Plays, In The Water Theatre Company’s artists decided we had more to do apart than together. We celebrated a final week and got on planes to fly home.
Cut to December 2019. We are trying to make Panic Everything’s Fine happen for Summer 2020, and we’re going to resurrect the company around the play. Panic will be the spearhead for the company to come, we’ll figure the rest as we go. All we need is a name. I go to India. SuperGeographic.
Akhshay Gandhi, Sandeep Shrestha, and I are making a play about Queerness in India - but part one ends March 11th, when I wake to a message that my government has shut down travel between the U.S. and Europe. I get another notification that India will suspend my visa at midnight. Three days later, I finally make it home and the pandemic has started.
At first, we thought we might be lucky. Panic Everything’s Fine is about a rapidly decaying world, an unheralded apocalypse made of highly-heralded components. The play was perfect for Summer 2020, by which time the plague would have surely receded.
We, like many others, made mistaken assumptions in March, April, and June. We thought we would be up and producing soon. We accepted invitations for New York and India; we were making plans. The smartest thing we did was to keep meeting. Every Monday for three hours on Zoom. We shifted from building a company around a play to building out the core of the company. Imagining a roster of plays. Here, we have made no assumptions.
In the last 6 months we have poured through the questions that are now this company: What does it mean to be an ensemble company across many countries? How will we produce work? How will we engage with international communities? What does it mean to be a company member? And what do we want to make?
Some of those answers are on this website, some will be posted later on this blog, but many are yet to be answered. A friend told me recently that a theater company can only really be formed in the rehearsal room. That is where we will discover our aesthetic, where we’ll wrestle with these questions. This pandemic time has allowed us time to build foundations, but the realest joy will come in the shared space of the rehearsal room, and in sharing our work with you in performance. So, we’re beginning again. Starting fresh with big ideas and hopes for an adventure ahead.