Thank you very much for helping us meet the Princess Ivona Challenge Grant!
You should receive an e-mail confirmation from The Collected Works, as well as a receipt from Paypal. The Collected Works is a fiscally-sponsored project of the Commonweal Institute, a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, so your Paypal receipt will say "Commonweal Institute."
We hope to see you in January or February for a performance of Princess Ivona!
Your donations help The Collected Works produce innovative performance events like our upcoming production of Princess Ivona and the ongoing Franconia Performance Salon series. We couldn't do it without you!
The Collected Works is a fiscally sponsored project of the Commonweal Institute, a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization, and donations are tax-deductible to the fullest extent allowed by law.
Former projects by some of our founding members.
Life is a Dream (Calderon), dir. Michael Hunter, Stanford 2001.
Entertaining Mr. Sloane (Orton) dir. Michael Hunter, Stanford 2002.
Metamorphosis (Kafka), dir. and adaptation Matthew Daube, Stanford 2004.
The Maids (Genet), dir. Michael Hunter, 7th Avenue Presbyterian Church, 2006.
Franconia Performance Series, 2012. (photos by James Lyons)
Our production of Princess Ivona bridges between Gombrowicz's "Burgundia" -- a world of European aristocractic castles and courts -- with our own contemporary world of wealthy, confident urban Americans. In both cases, the characters tacitly agree to certain codes and conventions of behavior and dress. Without precisely translating the action of the play into a contemporary American context, we are choosing to construct an aesthetic for the production which exists somewhere between contemporary urban San Francisco and Gombrowicz’s fantastical and imaginary Burgundia. The talented visual designers behind our production -- Latifa Medjdoub, Brian Yarish, Ariane Fehrenkamp, and James Lyons -- have created a strong sense of timelessness and theatricality which allows us to explore Princess Ivona as a character with 21st-century sensibilities, without necessarily locating the action of our production in any specific place or time.
As the action of the play unfolds, spectators will gradually move deeper into the large, stunning new space of the Performance Art Institute (PAI) in San Francisco’s SOMA district. PAI recently opened the doors to this new venue, formerly an enormous storage warehouse; and with a large donation of stage lighting we secured from Stanford University, we will be turning the cavernous space of PAI into a bold environmental theatre experience. The openness of the interior at PAI will allow us to reorient audiences in different environments over the course of the evening, in total contrast to traditional theatrical staging, in which the set changes while the spectator remains static.
Accompanying this production, the extraordinarily talented singer and string player Meredith Axelrod will play the songs of the “old, weird America” -- the bizarre blues numbers, children’s ballads and murder songs of the late 20s and 30s which burst into American consciousness through Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music, released in 1952.
These songs, while aesthetically far from the world of European courts or contemporary urban sophisticates, beautifully echo the arc of the play’s narrative, without simply restating it or illustrating it in musical form. In many ways, the weirdness of the world of this music is akin to the weirdness of the silent Ivona – she is both “natural,” in the sense of refusing to play the game of masks and theatricality of which the court partakes, but also “uncivilized,” in the most complicated sense of that word. Meredith will function as a kind of Greek chorus, telling musical tales of love and cruelty which amplify or give a different perspective on the themes and action of the play, and serving as guide for the spectators’ experience of both the text and the space of PAI.
Textile designer Latifa Medjdoub will be using pieces from Forest, a series of soft sculptures that have previously existed in a number of conceptual and performative situations. For Princess Ivona, the cast, together with the public from the Zero1 Biennial Exhibition at PAI, will fabricate a new and larger abstract knitted-fiber piece, built on a computerized loom. This piece will ultimately be animated in the play, and will convey narrative, thematic, and psychological aspects of the play.
Meredith Axelrod (Music) is a singer of early jazz and pre-1930s American pop music. As a guitarist, her playing explodes with energy and vintage rhythms. She has sung and played guitar with Dan Hicks, Maria Muldaur, and Craig Ventresco, and at venues around the United States and internationally, including The Great American Music Hall, the Freight and Salvage, and Jazz at Pearl’s, the San Francisco Festival of the Mandolins, as well as at the West Coast Ragtime Festival and the Blind Boone Ragtime and Early Jazz Festival. She has a few acts, including an early / trad jazz band, 1920s hillbilly / country / string / jug band, and ragtime / tin pan alley.
Tonyanna Borkovi (Ivona) first came to know Michael Hunter at Stanford University over false promises of a viola da gamba, because of which he cast her in Calderon's Life is a Dream. As a lesson, he gave her numerous chairs to move around, with consoling murmurs that it was all a dream. The rest of her Stanford years were marked by efforts to span the Medical Sciences and Humanities, working with Barry Kendall on Gertrude Stein’s Doctor Faustus Lights the Lights, and on his production of Measure for Measure, both of which sounded medical enough. Lured by their health service (but primarily by their theatre), she moved to the UK to study medicine at St. George’s Hospital, University of London. Now back in San Francisco, working towards American licensure, she has been teaching at 826 Valencia and spent a formidable year teaching Chemistry and Music History at San Francisco University High School. As usual, she combines her studies with the stage, most recently as a smutty sunflower in the SF Olympians Festival, Alice in The Boar’s Head - Henry IV and V, and that old Scottish woman in Helen of Troy, both through SF Theater Pub.
M. G. Renu Cappelli (assistant director) was born in Italy, sojourned in India and France for a time, and was properly raised in Maui, Hawaii. She completed her Ph.D. in Performance Studies at UC Berkeley in 2007, and has been living in the San Francisco Bay Area for the past twelve years. She is a scholar, a teacher, a puppeteer, and a theater-deviser. Renu is currently teaching in the Critical Gender Studies program at UC San Diego.
Shaudy Danaye-Armstrong (Aunt, First Lady) holds a BA and MA in Philosophy from Stanford University, and a JD from University of Chicago Law School. She is an in-house litigator at Google Inc. Shaudy met Michael Hunter at Stanford, and acted under his direction there and at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2001, where their show was nominated for a Fringe First. (That they lost the Fringe First to Philip Seymour Hoffman's Jesus Hopped the A Train has been her closest brush with fame to date, and one of her favorite achievements.) Shaudy also sits on the Board of Golden Thread Productions, and has for five years. She is addicted to adrenaline; she loves both the law and theater for obliging her addiction (so that she doesn't have to be, say, a bank robber).
Matthew Daube (Lord Chamberlain) is an artist-scholar with an MFA in Playwriting from Smith College and a PhD in Theater and Performance Studies from Stanford University, where he teaches courses on literature, arts, and performance.
Ariane L. Fehrenkamp (set designer) practices architecture in San Francisco. Her mission is to design sustainable projects that serve the public good. She studied at Harvard and RISD and received a masters in architecture at the University of California, Berkeley, prior to which she was a staff writer at Sculpture magazine. This collaboration on a theatrical design for a new artist collective combines her commitment to community projects and her passion for artistic innovation.
Jean Franco (Beggar, First Gentleman) is thrilled to be part of The Collected Work’s production of Gombrowicz's Princess Ivona. He writes: "My special thanks to Latifa, Michael, cast and crew for creating a momentous moment in all of our lives. It is my hope, like all great works of art, that you take the philosophical parts of the play with you, because ART is meant to be shared and learned from. Besides the metaphysical, I happen to have an older sister named Ivone and from time to time our family calls her Ivona. If I happen to catch your fancy feel free to chat me up afterwards as I love to talk about the arts. Thank you for supporting live theatre."
Michael Hunter (director). Michael Hunter is a director, performance curator, and adjunct professor at Stanford University, where he received his PhD in Drama and Directing. His directorial work in the Bay Area and the UK has included Calderòn, Orton, Genet, Ionesco, and Kushner, as well as his own plays, which he has presented at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Michael runs a regular performance series in his home, and is a founding member of The Collected Works.
Barry Kendall (King) is a performer and director. Favorite productions include Measure for Measure and Adrienne Kennedy's Motherhood 2000 at Stanford, Henry V at the Off-Broadway Jean Cocteau Repertory Theatre, and the original site-specific pieces The Tower of Babel for Fun & Profit and Revival on the River, the latter performed at Andy Goldsworthy's sculpture Stone River. Favorite roles include the Madman in Witkiewicz's The Madman and the Nun and the Devil in Doctor Faustus Lights the Lights by Gertrude Stein. He earned a PhD in Drama from Stanford University in 2007. For three seasons, Barry ran 7 Stages Theatre, Atlanta's premier producer and presenter of international artists and companies. In addition to his work as a founding member of The Collected Works, he sings baritone with the International Orange Chorale, and karaoke whenever he can.
Jamie Lyons is an educator, film maker, writer and stage director who received his AB and PhD from Stanford University. He has worked at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles, Magic Theatre in San Francisco, The Public Theater, and Mabou Mines in New York. For the stage he has directed the work of Samuel Beckett, Harold Pinter, Sam Shepard, Peter Weiss, and Heiner Muller. Jamie's most recent film is an adaptation of Dante's Inferno with puppets.
Latifa Medjdoub (Visual Artist) is a visual artist whose work is conceived with a gesamtkunstwerk approach through its synthesis of painting, projected photography, installation and performance art. A complex dialog is often implicit in her multi-layered artwork conducting the witness's eye to an irrational scene. Latifa has collaborated in a number of theater, opera, film, dance and performance art projects with leading artists such as Philippe Guillotel, Yvonne Sassinot de Nesle, Christian Lacroix, Gabriella Pescucci, Marina Draghici and directors Raul Ruiz, Yves Angelo, Marcel Marechal, and Philippe Decoufle. Her work has been shown at the Museum of Textile and Fine Arts, Roubaix, France; Cheongju Art Center, Korea; De Cordova Museum, MA; Santa Fe Art Institute, NM; and the National Building Museum, DC.
Atessa McAleenan-Morrell (Isobel) is excited to be a part of Princess Ivona, and thrilled to be playing the part of Isobel. She is also currently a part of What The Butler Saw with the Benicia Old Town Theatre Group. Recent credits include Swimming in the Shallows (Backhand Productions) and 9 to 5 (Willows Theatre Company). Atessa is currently studying theatre at Diablo Valley College. She would like to thank her family for their continuous support.
Florentina Mocanu-Schendel (Queen) began writing, directing, and performing comedy at age 12. At 18 she was awarded best actress, entered the People's School of Art in Bucharest and later the University of Theater Arts in Targu Mures where she earned her Diploma in Acting for theatre and film. In Romania she worked for the National Theatre, Comedy Theatre of Bucharest and Romania Film. Since she moved to the United States she worked in theatre and film while completing her education with an MA in Drama from San Francisco State University and a PhD in Theatre and Performance Studies from Stanford University. Presently she teaches Classical Dramatic Literature at University of San Francisco.
Amy Elizabeth Munz (stage manager) is the Founder and Creative Director for THE NEW STAGE, a piece of installation art that functions as a 21st century platform for the performing arts. Her acting and theatre training includes 10 years with the A.C.T’s YC in San Francisco, Theatre Studies in the French Baccalaureate program, and rigorous programs at R.A.D.A. in London and the Tisch Graduate Acting GASP Program in New York. Notable performances include producing and performing in the three screen video installation and performance show she wrote, BEING ANTIGONE. Others include lead roles in shows at A.C.T.’s YC and playing Solange in a French production of Jean Genet's LES BONNES. Recognition and awards include French Baccalaureate with High Honors, International High School Valedictorian, Distinguished Young Artist Award from A.C.T., Back-à-Dos Theatre Artist Award, Excellence in French Theatre, one President’s Award for Educational Excellence signed by President Obama and another by former President Bush. She graduated Summa cum laude with a B.A. in Communication from Northwestern University’s and received a Departmental Distinction in Theatre.
Brian Smick (Simon) has immersed himself in the Diablo Valley College Theatre Program for the past four years, where he has played Puck in A Midsummer Nights Dream, Brabantio in Othello, and Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet. Outside of the school walls Brian has been involved in quite a bit of children’s theatre: he's played Timone from The Lion King and Hook from Peter Pan in the Peter Pan Foundation’s annual musical Wish Upon a Star for the last three years, as well as Howie in Ramona Quimby and Adam in Miss Nelson is Missing with the Bay Children’s Theatre, and the Caterpillar in Poison Apple Production’s Wondering With Alice. He's played Shawn Weylis in the Boxcar Theatre production of Abigail Dreary, and was a production assistant with We Players' The Odyssey on Angel Island. He was decorated as Best Partner at last year's regional Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival, along with his partner James Udom, who won the Irene Ryan’s Best Actor award. They went on to compete nationally in Washington D.C.
Ryan Tacata (Prince Philip) holds a BFA (2007) from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and studied briefly at the Experimental Performance Institute with an emphasis in queer activist performance. He is currently a PhD student in the Department of Theater and Performance Studies at Stanford University. His earlier performance work (Dear Lord Please Don’t Bleach My Anus, An Exercise in Anal Excavation #1 and Hissstories of our Anus) and zine Anal Log attempted to socialize the anus as a site of imaginative and disruptive subject formation through anal imagery, personal narratives and anal-spatial arrangements. His current work (Home in Five Parts and The Day After, or When Heroes Aren’t Enough) parallels his academic research on fundamental relationships between performance and architecture. He has performed at Links Hall (Chicago), the Voice Factory (San Francisco), Duckie (London), The Living Theater (New York), The Performance Art Institute (San Francisco) and elsewhere across the US. Most recently, he has worked for/with artists: Ann Carlson, Marry Ellen Strom, Leslie Hill and Helen Paris (Curious), Robert Whitman, and Hugo Glendinning. (www.ryantacata.com)
Will Trichon (Innocent, Ensemble) is an actor, director, and writer who is proud to be based in his hometown of San Francisco. Raised in the Castro by a jazz pianist and a cabaret chanteuse, Will attended the California State Summer School for the Arts - where then-Governor Gray Davis named him a California Arts Scholar - and then traveled to New York City, where he completed the Conservatory program at Michael Howard Studios and earned a BFA in Acting with honors at Marymount Manhattan College. Favorite roles include Shakespeare’s Richard II at the Off-Broadway Theresa Lang Theatre, the titular lead in The Devil and Ben Jones at the Carbon County Cultural Project in Pennsylvania, and recent ensemble work at performance spaces around the city, including Brava Theatre’s Come As You Are: A Celebration of Queer Sex!. Currently, he is developing a guerrilla-style agitprop adaptation of Coriolanus, by William Shakespeare, which he hopes to direct this coming summer.
James Udom (Cyprian, Ensemble) recently appeared as Ernst in Spring Awakening (Saint Mary's College), and the WE Players productions of Twelfth Night (Antonio) and Homer's The Odyssey (Telemachus). Other professional credits include Adam in Abigail Dreary (Boxcar Theatre), Martin Harrison/Aaron in Chicago (Willows Theatre Company) and the Storyteller in Once on this Island (Willows Theatre Company). James would like to give special thanks to his friends, family, and mentors for their continuous support and encouragement. And thanks to you for supporting live theater!
Brian Yarish (set designer). Brian is the Visual Resources Curator at California College of the Arts. His work combines architectural design, furniture making, art history, performance and a long experience with the outdoors.
Witold Gombrowicz in his apartment in Venice, 1965. Photo credit: B. Paczowski
Born in 1904 into a landowning aristocractic family, Witold Gombrowicz studied law in Warsaw in the 1920s before he turned his full attention towards literature. While his initial forays into writing and publication earned him almost immediate recognition, he was also an exceedingly controversial figure on the cultural scene, consistently choosing to be what he regarded as a productive antagonist of Polish society, rather than using his writing and social visibility to court approval and popularity. The accusation that he was an immature writer had been leveled at him after he titled his first publication of stories Memoirs in a Time of Immaturity. As a result of these accusations, he chose to embrace themes and perspectives of immaturity in his writing, often exploring the more absurd aspects of the relationship between adolescence and maturity in his work.
In 1939, Gombrowicz traveled to Argentina on the ocean liner Chrobry. He arrived in Buenos Aires shortly before Hitler’s invasion of Poland and the outbreak of World War II. Gombrowicz boarded the ship to return to Europe, but changed his mind: he returned to land and remained in Argentina, where he lived and continued to write, in Polish, until 1963.
Though he never achieved great material success, his reputation as a writer grew constantly over his lifetime, particularly in Europe, so that by the time of his death in 1969 his novels, plays, and memoirs were translated into many languages, he had won the prestigious International Publishers’ Formentor Prize, and he had been a finalist for the Nobel Prize for literature. He is perhaps best known for his Diary, which he wrote and published regularly from 1953-1966 in the Polish émigré journal Kultura. (The Diary has just been republished in a beautiful edition by Yale University Press. Excerpts can be found here.)
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Princess Ivona (or Ivona, Princess of Burgundia) is the first play by the influential Polish novelist, playwright, and diarist Witold Gombrowicz, whom John Updike has called “one of the profoundest of the late moderns” and Milan Kundera “one of the great novelists of our century.
Written in 1934-5, Princess Ivona was first published in the literary journal Skamander in 1938. It received its first performance in 1957 at the Teatr Dramatyczny in Warsaw, when the Communist government in Poland briefly lifted a ban on Gombrowicz’s work, after which his work was not seen again in Poland until the 1970s (and not published until the 1980s). In 1964 it was performed in West Germany, and in 1965 in Sweden and France; these productions earned Gombrowicz great critical acclaim, and initiated a steady stream of productions of his work throughout Europe and, eventually, the US.
The play follows the bizarre intrigues of a self-confident Royal Court, whose members enjoy an unchallenged sense of privilege, luxury, and control – over both themselves and others. The presence of a strange, awkward, silent young woman who mysteriously wanders into their world soon throws the court into a tailspin – the King and Queen begin to unravel at the very core of their being, and the rational functioning of the court’s administrators becomes increasingly lunatic. As the play spirals towards its ending, both the narrative and Gombrowicz’s language become more outlandish and theatrical.
Gombrowicz’s brilliant play oscillates between a dark, brutal vision of humanity and sparkling, precise wit – as with much of his work, a scathing critical spirit tangles with the effervescence of humor, rhapsodic language, and tremendous flights of imagination. Shifting between Shakespearian parody and Existential absurdity, Gombrowicz grounds his ornate and shifting dramatic structure in an extremely simple premise: that the elaborate construction of an aristocratic court can be threatened and undone because of an unmemorable young woman who refuses to speak.
Gombrowicz created in Princess Ivona a timeless narrative structure that is neither parable, nor allegory. It is, rather, a theatrical fantasy that reflects on our human tendency to theatricalize ourselves to each other. Throughout his life and work, Gombrowicz was obsessed with the ways humans use masks, or what he called form, to relate to and seduce each other. Both necessary and terrifying, our engagement with form is always a theatricalization of our needs, often in grotesque and exaggerated ways.
Because it is fundamentally a theatrical fantasy, the play has the capacity to comment on any context in which it is performed, and the nature of the commentary is always changing. Is the play about the war between the sexes? It certainly has much to say about that. Is it about the ways in which powerful men are thrilled by controlling the speech of women? Is it about systems of conformity? Seen within the context of the historical moment when it was written, the play evokes the decline and decadence of European aristocracy, the demonization of the figure of the European Jew, and the tentative cultural and historical position of Poland, a nation both newly created and sandwiched between East and West.
Yet Gombrowicz’s play, like those of the existential playwrights Eugene Ionesco and Samuel Beckett after him, cannot be reduced to any of these themes or ideas – it is not about these facts in the world, nor is it merely trying to hold a distorted mirror up to reality in order to critique it. Rather, the play is like a well-built and versatile machine – depending on what you plug into it, it produces radically different outcomes, without itself being altered.
As Gombrowicz himself put it:
“A writer can, if he wishes, describe reality as he sees it or as he imagines it to be; this produces realistic works (…) But he can also apply a different method in which reality is reduced to its component parts, after which these parts are used like bricks to construct a new edifice, a new world or microcosm, which ought to be different from the regular world and yet correspond with it in some way … different but, as the physicists say, adequate.” (Polish Memories, 93)
We just closed our inaugural production of Gombrowicz's Absurdist masterpiece Princess Ivona. Thanks to everyone who came out! Sign up for our e-mail list and stay tuned for information about our next project!
Here's a bit of what people had to say about Princess Ivona:
"Astutely staged by director and company-cofounder Michael Hunter, with excellent design support — including from costumer Latifa Medjdoub — this captivating play makes for a worthwhile outing and a very promising company debut." Robert Avila, San Francisco Bay Guardian
SFWeekly's pick of the day for Jan. 31: "A brilliant and often hilarious examination of the role of power and desire...Expect to be literally and metaphorically moved." Jamie McKenzie
"From the acting, to the storyline, to the costumes, set and staging – everything fit, everything contributed so richly to the complex and entertaining framework of this play. It is, quite simply, the best play I have ever seen." Melissa Mirza, The Dinner Table
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