INTERVIEW WITH YEHUDA HYMAN - Conducted By Elizabeth Edwards
Are there any specific artistic influences that you’ve had, from other dancers or writers…?
In this particular piece?
God, there’s so many. From a very early age the person that most excited me about theater was Peter Brook. I remember I saw a piece of his in Germany, in an armory. It was an African folktale called The Bone, with a multi-national troupe. They did the piece in French mostly, which I’m not fluent in, and some German, a little bit of English—so basically I couldn’t understand what was being said. They did it on a bare stage; I think it was six actors and a percussionist. And it was—I’ll never forget it—it was one of the most enjoyable, funny, powerful pieces I’ve ever seen.
And it was very much integrated with the audience. So that idea of that, and the simplicity of a folktale—because that piece was about hunger, it was about a village that was hungry. So it just tapped something, in all of us. All of us can relate to that. So his work was really, really an influence to me.
I also remember, on my first trip to Israel, there was an international theater festival. I don’t know who this woman was, I wish I did, but she was from India, and she was on this tiny postage stamp stage, and it was just her, and she told stories and danced them. And I thought—this is it, this is the whole experience. She was so highly skilled. She really brought everything to life, and she did it with her body and her voice, and so… Whoever that woman is, I don’t know, but… It’s the kind of thing I’m attempting.
Some of my favorite writers, even as a child: Edward Albee, because it’s… bigger. It’s not realism, so it’s bigger. And it’s a combination of humor and something dark going on, underneath. Thornton Wilder was a big influence on me, even as a child. His, I guess, spirituality, as a writer, finding the different levels in the universe, and doing it with humor and compassion. And speaking in plain language.
I think music is a huge influence. I listen to music all the time when I’m writing and moving around. For this piece I’m listening to all kinds of music. Diverse rhythms, and… Dancers, of course. The dancers influence. In the next month and a half I’m going to be studying more dance, and learning more dances.
And then, you know, with this piece, things just happen. Little weird things happen, and I meet people, and they help me to tell the story. They become part of the story, and they help me to understand the story. Last week I was doing storytelling at a camp for inner-city kids at risk. And I told them, not something from “The Seven Beggars,” but I told them a very simple parable from Rabbi Nachman. It was really interesting because most of these kids are African-American, or Latino, but they got it, they really responded to it, because it’s about their lives.
I mean, if you understand the time that Rabbi Nachman was telling the stories, it was in 1810, in Eastern Europe, in the Jewish ghetto. They were in a very violent situation, that community. So he was teaching them ways to preserve their identity, give them courage, find their joy in life. He was saying, “Look, we know it’s very bleak out there, but on the inside, there’s more than what’s out there. There are other worlds, and inside you have this, inside you, and it’s your life force.” And I think there’s value in that, if you can tell that story. I mean, I’ve found value in it. I wouldn’t be able to work on these [stories] as long as I have… But they’re constantly inspiring me.