THE TRANSATLANTIC MAGAZINE
Sign up to The American magazine's newsletters (below) to receive more regular news, articles and updates on America in the UK.
Thank you for your time Bianca. Our traditional opening question, where in the States are you from?
At the moment I am based out of Los Angeles. I have lived in Boston and New York as well and do spend a lot of time in London.
You've been involved in theater as a playwright, producer and writer - how did you first become interested in theater?
I’ve always been more interested in experimental forms of theater. I’m a huge Beckett fan, and Brecht also, and many contemporary experimental writers. I like to focus on things that are important to me, important to the world I live in and that way I have a passion for what I write. But I also never lose sight of the fact that we are entertainers with an audience.
Your latest project is The Time Of Our Lies, which you wrote. It's the story of American historian, professor and social activist Howard Zinn. Can you tell us a little about him?
Yes of course. When I was living in Boston, I had the pleasure and honor of meeting Howard Zinn. Boston is an extraordinary town. They run things their own way. There are a lot of Irish, and Italians, and students and then you end up meeting a lot of academics. I was especially interested in Zinn's work and also Noam Chomsky's and met with them both. But I really liked Zinn's voice. He has such a simple way of describing politicians and others who try to distance you by complicating matters with jargon. But Howard spoke plainly. And when I say simple, that’s not easy because simple is complicated. Simple is hard. Simple is honest. When I started to read Zinn, I felt he was outwardly saying all the things I was thinking inwardly and hoping that I was wrong. It was a bittersweet experience. And I wanted to share this.
What lead to you writing his story, and why did it feel a good fit for stage?
There’s a funny story I like to tell which his daughter likes as well. When I first met him I said to him that I think so much of the news has become entertainment. Why don’t we turn entertainment into news? He smiled, shook my hand, and said let’s do it and that’s how we got started on this play. The story is about how Zinn was a bombardier at the age of 26 and didn’t know he was dropping Napalm on the small French seaside town of Royan when the war was almost over. They were told it was “jellied gasoline” which was new at the time and they didn’t know how devastating the results would be. This fateful act changed Zinn as a person and put him on a path of searching for better solutions for the rest of his life.
I also interviewed soldiers from Afghanistan and Iraq and interspersed their stories in the piece as well. I really wanted the audience to fully get intimate with the inner feeling of being a soldier and really grasp what it is they go through. It’s such a hard thing to actually think about. We hear constantly that 20 more died in some far away land and I think unless one of those 20 is your brother or son or someone you know, we don’t really give it much thought. In the opening scene, we watch a soldier die for five minutes. I wanted us to just sit with the actual act of dying. Of course this is done with song and Butoh dance inspired movement and other effects, so it’s not just bleak.
Is Zinn's story particularly relevant to today's America and today's world?
As America’s empire is global, its maladies are projected world wide. Only one example is that Boris Johnson has a good chance of becoming the prime minister and he is alarmingly similar to Donald Trump. How did things get to this point? The kind of intentional distortion of history that Zinn concentrated on exposing exists in Europe just as it does in America and for the same reasons. The media, including the press, and educational institutions here are controlled by the same kind of establishment interests that distort public information in America. That’s why I think that the UK is a good venue for this story. And furthermore, I want audiences to know about Howard Zinn and his work. Our future depends on knowing what really happened and what is really happening and for this we depend on heroic fighters for truth. Howard was one of them.
How did you feel about the play being nominated in 2014 for an Amnesty International Freedom of Expression Award at the Edinburgh Fringe?
Of course I was very pleased. It was a funny thing, we were in the wrong venue, the Gilded Balloon which hosts mostly comedy shows, we were at the wrong time of day which was noon and hardly anybody was coming to see us, but we had a great little team doing great work and we were glad it got noticed. A lot of Americans came and they were literally crying in the hall afterwards.
Will you be traveling to the UK for the production? If so, will you have free time to explore, what will you be doing whilst over here?
Yes, I will be here the whole month of July as we are in rehearsals and I am also the producer of the play. I imagine I will be working during the days with evenings to explore. But I have lived in the UK on and off since I was 10 years old and now split my time between Los Angeles and the UK so mostly, I will be visiting friends and some of my favorite haunts I’ve discovered over the years. In fact, when I was over last October, I spent a good amount of time at the Impreial War Museum which was fascinating. There was so much to read and see, you really got closer to what being a soldier must be like. I want to take our whole cast over there for a day!
Finally, what's the best thing about being Bianca Bagatourian?
Oh what a funny question. I would say the good thing about being Bianca is that sometimes her dreams come true. Not to say that I’m lucky... I mean I’ve never won in bingo or a lottery ticket, I’ve always had to work very hard but once in a while miracles happen and dream do come true.
The Time Of Our Lies is on stage at Park Theatre in London from July 30 to August 10. On August 6th, the show will be followed by a talk by Terri Paddock titled "Howard Zinn & Artivism". Find out more and buy tickets at www.parktheatre.co.uk/whats-on/the-time-of-our-lies/about
Essential Weekly Reads for Overseas Americans. Free