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Culture and Identity in Directing Tennessee Williams' Camino Real

This project report chronicles and evaluates my choices, influences and personal growth, directing Camino Real by Tennessee Williams. The production of the play was presented in the Intimate Theatre at the Luckman Fine Arts Complex, as part of the College of Arts and Letters sponsored theater season at California State University, Los Angeles (CSULA) in April 2015. My awareness of this play far preceded its submission for production. First studied in college, this play spoke to the third culture upbringing that had defined my life. The play, first performed on Broadway in 1953, is a fantasy, containing characters of legend and literature. This was my first experience with a play that married the fantastic and the iconic in a “foreign” milieu that seemed to have resonance with my own experience. Being of mixed heritage, “Oriental” and Occidental, by blood and by experience, this play and the setting I have chosen, have specific meaning for me. Intellectually, culturally and emotionally this exploration will mark a watershed in my development as a theater artist. My studies in the Master in Theatre Arts Program introduced and illuminated many concepts and viewpoints, of which, for a good portion of my life, I was either blissfully unaware or in unconscious collusion. The insights gained by returning to pursue a degree at CSULA altered the image of the show I had carried for many years. Topics such as Colonialism, Edward Said’s “Orientalism,” and Michel Foucault’s examination of Bentham’s Panopticon, would now be included in my approach to this play and this production. This report documents my journey with the play, first in the selection of the piece and my own understanding and empathy with its central subject matter, and the adaptation I made to foreground the story I wanted to tell. The script is included in the appendix. This production of Camino Real showcased conflict about ageism, post-colonial empowerment and personal identity. Re-locating the production’s setting allowed for its characters’ personal struggles to be placed in a context that can reflect the clash between individual agency and traditional or historical paradigms of dealing with other cultures and peoples. The choice to use the film Casablanca as a central reference and entry point, served as an important device to explore the concept of “Orientalism” that has defined much of the West’s adamant mis-comprehension of the desires and cultures of the extra-European world. Against this backdrop, Camino Real provided an ideal environment for creating performance that would include familiar and foreign cultures, differing attitudes towards personal agency and various questions about personal identity.