"Medea Unleashed" writer & co-director Elif Savas explains what motivated her take on the age-old character.
A native of Istanbul, Turkiye, Elif Savas has explored the creative process across many modes and art forms as an artist, including opera, film, stage, immersive theater, dance, performance arts, and multimedia installations. She has performed as an opera singer and actor in Istanbul, New York, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and in Europe. She has written and directed immersive experiences and also written and directed plays. Savas has directed a documentary movie about the history of coup d'etats in Turkiye. She is a published author of short stories and a children's book in Turkish. The Los Angeles arts scene has been a home for Elif since 2006, where she currently resides, and has been seen in numerous productions at IAC's home venue, the Count's Den.
I have always been fascinated by iconic B-list mythological characters that the ancient human imagination came up with. The big kahunas like Zeus with their big emotions and big powers might be just a bit too out there. They are there to adore, to hate, to look up to. Maybe somewhere at the scale of today's upper echelon Marvel gods. And then the others. Circe, Medusa, Orpheus, Dionysus, etc. They are still larger than our lives, yet much smaller than the biggies, and - maybe because of their manageable size - somewhat more relatable in their very human-like contradictions. Medea is one of them. She is forever tainted by the fact that she murdered her own children, yet constantly being reinvented by society, her reasoning pivoting around where we see women, and how sacred is motherhood at the moment. Rehashing the story and reinventing it to its times is not new. It has been done, very successfully, many times. There are amazing operas, plays, and novels that delve into the well. And I highly suggest you immerse yourself in the Medea Universe.
I myself don't dare to add my own view into the bucket, but I can't get myself to stay away either. I find her just too delicious. Many questions raised and answered in countless Medeas, what am I trying to bring to the table then? Here is the is the problem I have set up for myself: Can I invite the contemporary audience to relate to the ultimate sinner, Medea, the infanticide, all while making them laugh? When I say laugh, I really mean laugh. Belly laughs. Comedy is how we deal with trauma and taboo. Taboos are created by society. Trauma, in this case, is created by Euripides. Can I take the power of trauma away from Euripides and give it to Medea, without bowing my head down to taboos? This play is the study of that problem. Now, I don't suggest that I solved the problem. That would kill Medea for me, close the coffin forever, and what would I ever do without her? I like to believe that art is a multiple choice, mostly correct answers test, and one doesn't even have to bring any answers to pass the exam. Art is all about throwing even more questions, untangling while tangling, studying and more studying. And then one is told that there is not even an exam to pass, because it is not possible to pass. A very unsteady place to live your life on, if you dare to be an artist.
I have chosen Ian Heath as my co-director, because he has been my co-conspirator in many productions before: a man you can lean on, climb over, and trust your life with, literally. An artist of many talents, he is that gently firm person with many original ideas who I can create with, safely, without feeling self-conscious. I hope all artists out there can find plenty of people to be silly, funny, ridiculous, unreasonable, politically incorrect with. And then I have Francesca Bifulco, who came up with that ridiculously efficient and effective set design. And Alex Schetter, who is taking care of sound and light design, and bringing much power to the piece. Without them, the whole play would be a "coulda woulda but..." Art is a constant partnership with past and future and today's artists. Which brings the question: Would Euripides like this play? I dunno. I'd like to imagine so. But not a well-mannered like, or an "OMG they are still talking about my play" like, but a like like. Like a thumbs-up like. "Oh! Cool!!!" like. There are many lines, directly taken from Euripides's play in Medea Unleashed. But they are all twisted, distorted, reimagined and abused by me. I hope Euripides will take it all with a light heart, and Zeus will not throw a lightning rod on my head before the play opens. Such a spectacle deserves the opening night.
I have to mention the cast, because what is a play without its actors? I have directed many plays written by others. I have acted in many plays written and directed by others. I have written one-person plays for myself, perfectly tailored for my body. This is the first play I have ever written that is acted by other actors. Once in a purple moon, a playwright gets very lucky with a cast that not only brings the characters to the stage as she imagined, but the actors drive the characters further than what she could have ever imagined. The playwright blows a puff of soul out there, and the right cast grabs it and puts it into their body. I think I got lucky.
And last: I send my adoring love to Rachel Leah Adams, the founder of IAC, for opening up the space to us. This production would not be possible without her support, endless energy and friendship.