Lorca and the Young Playwright: Teaching Duende, Releasing Llanto, Writing Cante Jondo in the Contemporary Play

Prof. Oliver Mayer
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Using to the fullest the capabilities of drama to embody desire, Federico Garcia Lorca created a body of plays which fairly pulsate with life, even nearly 70 years after his untimely demise. These towering texts have a remarkable resistance to fad; they are made of an unbreakable substance beyond style. His characters deal in want (however dangerous) and love (however unrequited), and their excess of feeling fills the stage with immediacy.

This phenomenon is often referred to as duende — "an inexplicable power of attraction, the ability, on rare occasions, to send waves of emotion through those watching and listening to them." (Preface to "In Search of Duende", Christopher Maurer) Lorca seizes upon duende precisely because it affects not only the actor but the audience, and does so with an immediacy that cuts through consciousness.

The mysteries of Yerma and Bernarda Alba speak of the pain and tears of generations, and take on new specific meanings when read in Lorca's own beloved city of Granada, with its flamenco roots, the Alhambra, and the Cuevas still signifying the ageless spirit of gypsy music and culture.

In a 60-minute workshop, I will follow Lorca's lead by isolating the four elements which comprise his definition of duende, and leading any and all listeners in writing exercises which awaken their possibilities in our living present. The elements are rich in possibility: 1) irrationality, 2) earthiness, 3) heightened awareness of death, and 4) a dash of the diabolical. Using examples for YERMA in particular, but also from other works, I will summon the demoniacal spirit of Lorca's llanto – "the pain which has no explanation" – for us to use as writers/artists/educators/students in the context of our own lives and excess of feelings.

Lorca writes in his essay on Deep Song that, "The true poems of cante jondo belong to no one — they float in the wind like golden thistledown, and each generation dresses them in a different color and passes them on to the next. They are fastened to an ideal weather vane changing direction in the winds of Time." The duende fuelling his writing is both inextricably tied to the gypsy siguiriyas of Granada, and to the timeless desires and secret yearnings of even human hearts the world over.

It comes from the first sob and the first kiss. By opening the possibility of activating our own duende, each in his/her own soul, our writing of plays and essays promises to be truly deep. The idea is not to copy Lorca, but to allow his method to enter our own writing and shift our subjectivity towards the personal investigation of our own llantos.

Keywords: Duende, Llanto, Cante Jondo
Stream: Literature, Literary Studies
Presentation Type: Workshop Presentation in English
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Prof. Oliver Mayer

Assistant Professor of Dramatic Writing, School of Theatre, University of Southern California

Oliver Mayer - is the author of "Blade to the Heat", which premiered at the Public Theatre directed by George C. Wolfe. The revised version premiered on the Mark Taper Forum directed by Ron Link, and subsequent productions have taken place in San Francisco, Chicago, and Mexico City. The play is published in two versions by Dramatists Play Service. "Joe Louis Blues" received its world premiere in San Francisco, and was subsequently produced in Los Angeles and Atlanta. "Conjunto" premiered in San Jose at Teatro Vision; it was developed at the Sundance Lab, San Jose Rep, and the Mark Taper Forum New Work Festival. "Ragged Time" received its world premiere at the Black Dahlia Theatre, and was previously presented at the Royal Court Theatre, London, and the Taper New Work Festival; it is anthologized in the "Out of the Fringe" (TCG 2000). "Joy of the Desolate" premiered in Chicago, and was produced at Cal Arts. Other plays include "The Road to Los Angeles", "Young Valiant", "Bold as Love", "Laws of Sympathy", "The Righting Moment" and "Dias y Flores". He is the recipient of a Gerbode Grant to write the libretto to "America Tropical", a new opera composed by David Conte, to premiere in 2006. Oliver is Assistant Professor of Dramatic Writing at USC's School of Theatre. He is a graduate of Cornell and Columbia Universities, and attended Worcester College, Oxford. His literary archive can be accessed through Stanford University Libraries.

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