Where did you find the inspiration for your piece in Illuminating Voices: “The Haunting”?
To link our past and our future (and to make sure Jack would stop hounding me to distraction with his incessant fretting over all the changes since his death in 2008 – the dead are very much alive in my heart and imagination. Now Jack has moved on to hounding me about why I have not yet published his translations of ten works of Victor Haim, the French playwright. The truth is: Jack is always fretting and pestering about something, but he always does so with a sense of humor as well as a flash of anger).
Our Past: I wrote ‘The Haunting’ to honor the work and person of Jack Trahey who founded the department of theatre at Loyola University Chicago in 1968. Jack and I became friends when I first joined the Loyola faculty in 1968 as an assistant professor of theology. I was deeply impressed by Jack’s passionate commitment to the academic and artistic importance of a vital theatre arts program to the life of a great university and to his vision of the arts as an essential element in liberal arts education. By making Jack’s spirit our guardian ghost for our new Newhart Family Theatre mainstage I am hoping to publicly ground our new incarnation as the department of fine and performing arts to Jack’s vision which is our history.
Our Future: And, in like spirit, I wrote ‘The Haunting’ to honor the work of Dr. Sarah Gabel in managing and nurturing our growth into a department of fine and performing arts and the work of Fr. Garanzini in giving all of the arts a primary place in the university. He is not only a great supporter of the arts but he also exercises his own creativity in his leadership as can be readily witnessed in the richly artistic rebuilding of our several campuses and in the vigorous program developments created by his global vision of the mission of our university as a world-class institution of higher learning.
What were your thoughts when you were approached about taking part in the Illuminating Voices project?
Honored, delighted, flattered, excited, and overwhelmed – how could I do all I wanted to do and all that Sarah prescribed in 10 minutes! How about a Wagnerian four opera 20 hour Ring Cycle, or a Goethe-like 5 hour classic. But, as an artist, when you receive a commission, you strive to meet the task. So, I wrote 10 minutes and Sarah asked for more, which is the greatest praise a writer can get. Then Sarah asked if she could break up the sections of the longer piece in order to create a frame for the entire production. This request also made me feel good because I had anticipated such a need and constructed the piece with that very purpose in mind.
What impact do you believe the opening of the Newhart Family Theatre will have on the arts at Loyola?
Here is what I see, but I have not yet talked about this idea with Sarah or with Fr. Garanzini. I would like to see us use the Mullady as a production venue for our alums. We have many distinguished alums that make great theatre. I think we should invite our alums to contribute to our programming by creating new or remounting established works. What greater praise can our alums give Jack and all of us (students, staff and faculty) than to produce their works with and for us and our audiences? The other idea I have is that we should affiliate with a theatre company or a group of theatre professionals and do festivals of plays. These types of projects open up new possibilities for our students and increase our participation in the dynamic life of Chicago theatre. Chicago theatre, as you know, produces more new work and more productions than any other city in the world. The opening of the new mainstage makes these ideas possible.
As President of Chicago Network for Justice and Peace, this is obviously a cause that is important for you. Is your work influenced by your passion for social justice?
All theatre in the West originates from the need to understand what it means to be a human person, whether in the funeral rituals honoring fallen heroes or in the classics of Greek theatre exploring what it means to be a citizen. A human being faces the mystery of death, of suffering, and of meaning. The question of Justice is at the heart of these mysteries. All of my plays explore the same question, whether it be Oscar Romero in El Salvador deciding to take the side of the poor or Sor Juana in Mexico deciding to take up the cause of women and orphans or Primo Levi in Auschwitz deciding to live in the face of total overwhelming nihilistic evil, how do I affirm my humanity and identity in this situation? That is what is meant in tragedy by the ‘fatal’ action: it is the action (the Greek word ‘drama’ means ‘I act’) that seals forever the meaning of who I am. In every good play this moment is the heart of the play. This decision is what the word ‘action’ means. All of my plays are about the pursuit of justice and of what that pursuit means and of how the individual ‘hero’ determines the meaning of that justice.
May I also add this historical note: From the very beginning the Jesuits understood this essential educational, ‘humanistic’ nature of theatre and built theatre into their work and into their curricula for their schools. Someday you should interview me about the history of Jesuit theatre.