Friday, June 9, 2023

Mythology and Music Bring Dark Tale to Life in SAMCA

One of the compelling properties of theatre is its ability to evolve in meaning. Over the past week, news from the United States of the overturning of Roe v. Wade has dominated headlines and conversations.

When Natalia Bushnik and Kathleen Welch submitted their play, SAMCA, to the 2022 Hamilton Fringe Festival’s New Play Contest in December- and were subsequently announced as winners- they had no idea of the increasing relevance their work would take in the weeks leading up to this year’s festival.

Originally, Bushnik had just meant to do some research on her familial Romanian background.

“I came across the creature of Samca: a forest hag who attacks pregnant women.” Bushnik explains. “I found this particularly fascinating, given the current political climate. . .where abortion rights are being stripped away.” 

Using Bushnik’s research as inspiration, SAMCA takes place in the Hoia Baciu Forest in Romania- just a few hundred kilometers away from Transylvania; another setting of dark lore. Centered around two sisters, SAMCA explores what happens when one of them becomes pregnant following a sexual assault. The subsequent story explores themes of fertility, abortion, and fear of the ‘feminine’ body; all of which can be heard not just historically in folklore, but today, just by turning on a television.

It’s not the first time that Bushnik has presented dark themes to a Hamilton Fringe Audience. In partnership with Robin Luckwaldt, Bushnik produced The Bathtub Girls in 2016, ultimately receiving the Festival’s Critics’ Choice Award. The play went on to be further developed, culminating in a nomination at the 2019-2020 Dora Mavor Moore Awards for ‘Outstanding New Play,’ which Bushnik credits to the formative experience had at the Hamilton Fringe Festival.

“It was the best launching point into the theatre world that we could’ve asked for.” Bushnik recalls. “That is what motivated me to submit SAMCA to the 2022 New Play Contest, because I know that audiences in Hamilton are receptive to dark works that are unconventional in form.”

During the creative process, Bushnik realized that this dark tale was one bigger than she could tell alone. She had worked with Kathleen Welch on an audio-collaboration during the pandemic; and Welch had also collaborated with Luckwaldt on a 2017 project called Widow’s Wedding Dress. The partnership was a natural one, and together, the two formed the Spindle Collective

In addition to co-writing SAMCA and facilitating the Spindle Collective through their first production, Welch also composed original music that is used throughout the show. According to the Collective, ‘The music of this play is an integral part of telling this story, using it as a storytelling device in the tradition of old ballads wherein a song can convey an entire story, beginning to end.’

Music is just one additional element used to tell the story in SAMCA. The performance features a number of multi-disciplinary elements, including live instrumentation, movement-based storytelling and experimental design under the direction of Brendan Kinnon; another Widow’s Wedding Dress collaborator who also runs Riot King; a Toronto-based art producer.

In advance of SAMCA’s premiere, both Riot King and Spindle Collective are sharing preview videos about the show on their respective Instagram pages. These short videos provide additional context, insights into the theme, as well as a preview of some of the songs that will be performed during the show. The video component also acts as another element of the performance’s multi-disciplinary features, which Bushnik credits to a talented team of collaborators.   

In addition to the short videos meant to set the tone, a longer, six-minute video is available on the Spindle Collective’s YouTube page which acts as a prologue. The video was produced for the 2022 Springworks ‘tapashta’ Digital Festival in Stratford.

For Bushnik, Welch and team, SAMCA‘s journey is just beginning. The play was a top ten finalist of the 2021 Wildfire Playwriting Competition and as indicated in the videos, was intended to be a site-specific roaming piece. Like The Bathtub Girls, the play will continue to be developed- and who knows where that may lead?

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